The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Making a difference

There are days, and weeks, and years which hold me to something barely a crawl, when I could write and act and do and be the resistance of a gnat between the millstones of the world -- when, if I have enacted any shift for mutual compassion, it is utterly invisible or even negatively visible -- when any hopeful tease into understanding (let alone willingness to apply) drowns in a vast sea of indifference, or perhaps reluctance, or perhaps even fear of the possibility of being seen to misstep (or worse, reflected as wrong, or worse yet, humiliated) -- when any hope of positive change is slammed against the inertial wall, and even those who claim a desire for innovation stray not from the acceptance of the accepted inertia for a second.

I am a pebble on the tracks of accepted truths. Less than visible. Kicked aside. Gravel. Become dust. Become, perhaps in time, fertile soil? I can hope. One day -- if what I speak drifts at all into orthodoxy -- but would that be a "win", I wonder? The largest demonstration of which I have ever been a part had something under a quarter of a million people. It was not in this millennium. Perhaps, we have exhausted the collective will to try to make a difference.

We stood in line for the last of the available buses at well past midnight, though told they had already been filled, hoping against hope that there might yet come a seat available -- and somehow at the last moment, there was. Trains, airplanes, individual vehicles and makeshift carpools, twenty-four hours travel there and another twenty-four back: all converging on Montréal for a few short hours one magical Friday. We brought flags from every corner of Canada, and many of those were crossed with Québecois flags. Our Canada included Québec.

It still does. Québec would lose something without the rest of Canada; but no less the rest of Canada would be lessened for the loss of Québec. I lived there for a time, in Montréal and in the Gaspesie: and I learned to love the place, the culture, the people. I acknowledge distinct culture, as indeed I acknowledge distinct culture for the Maritimes, and Alberta, and multiple distinct cultures scattered across the north beyond the map cut-offs. We are an immigrant culture, and we are native; newcomer and pur laine: and all of us make up part of the great patchwork that is this nation. It is something magical in the world, so many cultures come together to live together in peace.

And then that Friday (as once before in my lifetime), the choice was taken out of our hands: and the only thing we could do was a single, desperate demonstration trying to show some small part of that sense of mutual belonging.

Some of you may remember that demonstration personally, or have participated in it also, or have protested against it at the fringes of that square. For what it is worth, for once: it might actually have served its intended purpose ... short-term. So few demonstrations do, even short-term. And, as so many other well-meaning attempts, this one reinforced at least as much negativity as temporary goodwill and the small edging of vote that kept Canada united for another decade. We, none of us, wanted to threaten. We only wished to show the depth of our feeling: that we feel Québec to be an essential part of Canada.

... I know that some part of the attempt backfired. I wish I could know how it could have been done differently.

There are days when I function on something near automaton, driven to act only by what burns within me and endlessly drives me: for if I were to seek outward change, need visible results, I think I would collapse in black despair.

There are times I come very close.

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