CC Issue 32 / Reflections

True North

I’m a Canadian. That’s what my passport says. I was born in Arnprior Ontario. Somewhere on or about Febrary 2nd, 1982 somebody stamped my birth certificate and made it official. A brand new Canadian baby.

But what does that mean? In grade school and all the way up to high school it meant that we had to stand at the beginning of every day and listen to “Oh Canada”, a simple and far less stirring national anthem then our American neighbors’. In University they told us that nationalism was a collective imagining – all of us just telling ourselves that the borders around our land really exist and really mean something. They told us it was just an age old desire of human beings to always be creating barriers and divisions. We have always been and will always be creating an us and a them.

But can these things be bad?

Patriotism. Pride. Citizenship. Love of country.

I’ve always thought so. I’ve always been hesitant to get too patriotic. I definitely feel lucky to be born in Canada.  I feel like Canada is a great country, but I’ve always felt uneasy about the flag waving, anthem singing patriot. I suppose that’s more of an American thing anyway (no offense), in Canada it’s usually more of an implied national identity where everyone is supposed to play hockey, drink beer and go to the cottage in the summer. It doesn’t help that I spent many of my growing up years outside of Canada, and that I don’t play hockey or drink beer. I’ll admit that I’d never turn down an invitation to a cottage in the summer though. I’m only human.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about things slightly differently since watching Spielberg’s Lincoln. I liked the movie a lot and was frequently moved by it. It’s by no means a perfect movie and I’m not here to review it, I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The truth is I was not all that familiar with Abraham Lincoln before watching the movie. And I was especially unprepared for Daniel Day Lewis’ performance. I’d seen the trailer and I figured it would be good because he’s usually good, but it ended up being extraordinary. I really loved every second that Lincoln was on screen. He was funny, he was playful, he was thoughtful. My favorite moments were when Spielberg would slow everything down and just let Lincoln tell a long story. It was just a completely different movie than I was expecting.

At one point Lincoln tells a story about a compass. I don’t have the script in front of me but the quote was something like “A compass will tell you true north, but it won’t tell you about the bogs and cliffs and holes that may be in your path… if you have a compass and do nothing with it but fall in a hole then what was the use in knowing true north?”

I butchered the quote like I knew I was going to, but the scene really stuck with me and I had to share it. I just couldn’t get over the point he was making, that you should always keep your eyes on what you know you should do, but that you still have to live in the life you live and navigate the paths that your life presents. I’m not being clear at all and I apologize. My mind is just full of big thoughts and difficult ideas.

All week long I’ve been juggling ideas about freedom and patriotism and great historical figures. I keep thinking about how little time has actually passed since Nazi Germany left their permanent mark on the world. I’m struggling with the idea that it really hasn’t been that long since people could buy and sell other people openly and legally in the streets. Hollywood magic and Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar nominated* performance may inspire me and have the power to get me all choked up in the theater but it doesn’t seem to REALLY impact my day to day life.

There is still war all around me. There are still tyrants and there are still slaves. I wake up sometimes and realize that I’m living in history too and I’m getting close to the end. If I’m honest I’ll admit I probably have little more time left to live than what I’ve already lived. I’m approaching the tipping point. Things are starting to change.

It may be that soon I will have a Canadian passport but not a Canadian home. Soon I will have to really start living like a citizen of Planet Earth. Someday I might actually have to look around and really see the world I live in and do something about it. Someday I might actually have to be courageous.

Until then I’ll be in line for The Hobbit.

*Daniel Day Lewis is not yet, as of this publishing date nominated for an Academy Award for “Lincoln”. But, come on… he will be.

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