Saturday, March 13, 2010

So You're Canadian, eh?


Canadian Pride
Originally uploaded by N10Z
I rooted for Team Canada in the hockey finals of the Winter Olympics this year. There's a story about that.

In the summer of 1959, just before my twelfth birthday, I pressed my nose against the rear window of our car and watched my homeland disappear behind me. 

The circumstances of my family's relocation from southern Ontario in Canada to the heartland of the United States were kind of complicated.  I suspect that the four of us making that journey--my mother, sister, grandmother, and me--probably all had different ideas about what we were doing and why we were doing it. 

I knew it had to do, at least in part, with a perceived need for a fresh start for our family after several years of coping with an alcoholic father. It wasn't a flight from him, more like creating a new place for him in the hope he would eventually join us and begin anew. He never did.
I was born in Toronto. Our family situation had caused us to bounce around quite a bit. Prior to our move I completed sixth grade. I think that I matriculated in about seven or eight elementary schools just to get that far. I lived in Guelph and Ottawa but Toronto is the place I consider to be my birthplace and home town. 

Our move to the States was probably the best thing for our family. I wasn't so sure at the time. As I was walking to my first day of school in the U.S. I met a kid my age. Upon learning I was new here he offered to answer any questions I might have. I inquired as to whether they played much hockey here. He hesitated a bit, then said, "Yes we play hockey here. You play that on a horse, don't you?" I knew immediately that my hockey cards featuring the likes of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and Maurice "Rocket" Richard were going to be under appreciated.

In 1965, shortly before I headed off to college, my mother, sister, and I became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. A strange notion that--to somehow be "naturalized" by court order.  Nonetheless, it appeared that we would be here for the duration and if so we might as well lay claim to the rights of citizenship. I don't recall having to renounce other loyalties, foreign or domestic, but it appears we did.  Hopefully that doesn't extend to Olympic hockey. 

I was in college and graduate school during the Vietnam War. A lot of my friends took much more interest in Canada than I had noticed previously.  I suspect Canada will always be thought of here as being a refuge for objectors to the Vietnam War, an image that is warmly received by some and greeted with snarls by others.  Mark me down for warmly received.

Once seen by many as almost a subset of the USA, Canada now has fashioned its own identity in the world. Never has that been clearer than in the Olympic Games. 

Here in the States these days it is front and center in the debate over health care reform, either derided by Americans as wild-eyed socialism or lifted up as an illustration of how national health care can effectively work for the benefit of the people. 

The nature of my career was such that I was able to return to Canada quite a bit on business, and our family made a few trips over the years. I was glad for them to see the Victorian row houses, the streetcars, Eaton's Center, the lakefront, and to experience the cacophony of images, smells, and sounds that pulsated through the remarkable city of Toronto.

One of those trips provided my kids their one and only opportunity to meet my father, a rickety soul by then, his body yielding to years of alcoholism, now cruelly compounded by Parkinson's Disease. "It's the only time anyone has ever called me 'grandpa,'" he said to me with misty eyes, those being among the very last words he would speak to me face to face. 

All of this and more ran through my mind as I watched the Canadians host the remarkable Winter Olympics. I felt pride not just for "them" but for me as well.  I sensed anew my own Canadian heritage, which I have embraced all of my days. It comes with a flood of memories, some bittersweet, even tragic. It encompasses place and people, life scenes of loss and redemption, times of beauty and meaning. 

And most of all, it is nurtured by beloved Canadian friends who always let me know whenever I am there that I am home.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Blogging Backwards and Forward

I did a little tweaking of this blog yesterday, taking advantage of some new features offered by the blogging application I use.  It is now possible to put links to previous posts in a sidebar, and to do the same with comments placed by visitors to the site.

I liked that because it has the effect of keeping alive some of the posts that seemed worthy of a longer life than that provided by the RSS feed that first launched them into the blogosphere. The same can be said of some of the thoughtful comments made by you who have generously contributed to the kind of dialogue I consider essential in our time.

Most of the changes I have made are cosmetic, but the process gave rise to some reflections on the blogging journey I began in the spring of 2006, now comprising 86 posts (in fits and starts at times) and many excellent comments. From the beginning this effort wasn't a typical blog with timely posts and comments seeking their fifteen minutes of fame before dying a quick and natural death, counting on Google for some form of resurrection in days to come.

Mostly it started as a way of imposing a writing discipline on me, your humble blogger, giving him time and place to reflect on issues that interested him, often at greater length than most blogs. To some extent that modest goal has been achieved. Inevitably, however, those posts slipped quietly to the bottom of the blogger sea, a fate most undoubtedly deserved. A few floated awhile.

I spent 33 years of my life working within a faith community, including primary leadership roles. That work is written into my bone marrow.  Since that had framed so much of what I wrote about over that time I wanted now to see if I could speak with other voices, particularly on issues of social justice.

As I look back I take some satisfaction in the rather wide range of topics I wrote about in those 86 posts spanning four years.

Stylistically, there were pieces that were whimsical, autobiographical, sarcastic, humorous, angry, analytical, persuasive, and hopeful.

Topically, I wrote eight pieces about baseball--in the same way that Moby Dick is about whales, of course.  Over 25 pieces fell into a pretty eclectic category I would describe as social/cultural. It was a political season and I wrote about 20 essays on faith and politics. A lot of those were pretty passionate. There were around ten pieces on blogging and technology, several focusing on its cultural significance. There were others that just need to be tagged "miscellany."

And then comes Ashley, my now two-year-old granddaughter. Have I mentioned her unparalleled beauty and amazing intelligence? She was around only half the time since this blog began, but seven essays deal entirely with her.  Disproportionate, you say?  Deal with it.

But in another respect, all of it is about her, whether looking backwards or looking forward. I haven't tried to do a word count to see how many times her name shows up in other posts not devoted entirely to her, but I suspect many. Her presence in my life has been transforming because it has placed a human face on the future. No longer just something out ahead, the future has become personal. If words mean anything (and I think they do), then I want is to find words that in her name proclaim justice, embrace joy, and embody hope.

In other words, this blog is for you, Ashley.