Sunday, July 1, 2007

Canada Day Musings

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Even those from far and wide - it's like saying "Merry Christmas" no matter who you're saying it to.

This piece appeared in the paper yesterday and I got all teary reading it. So I wanted to share it with you. Many times, people living in a country forget their own history. This is a perfect example of that, and one which makes me realize how much each individual Canadian represents his or her entire nation.

To put the following into perspective, the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day on May 5th to remember those who fought and died during WWII, and particularly to recognize the Canadian negotiation of a truce that allowed relief supplies to end the misery of the "Hunger Winter" of 1944. During that awful winter, food supplies in the cities of Holland had been completely exhausted, fuel was nowhere to be found and many men, women and children perished.

To honor this gift of freedom, Holland sends 10,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa every year since the war ended.

Here is an edited version of an editorial by Colin Boudreau, a teacher and motivational speaker, titled "Canadian and proud of it":

"I remember the exact day I realized the magnitude of what being a Canadian really meant. It was February 12, 2005. My wife Tara and I, and our two-year-old daughter Faith had moved to Paris, France for my job.

"We were excited about our first trip to Amsterdam, which was a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Paris. After about an hour, we made a stop in Brussels, Belgium. A pleasant, well-dressed 80-something Dutch man boarded the train and sat beside us in what was a crowded train car. I felt bad for him as I figured my two-year-old was going to make him suffer. In my best French I pre-apologized for what was to come.

"He politely smiled and replied in rusty English, 'It's OK, I have grandchildren. I notice you are speaking English. Are you American?'

" 'No, sir,' I said, 'we are Canadian.'

"As if those were words he had been dying to hear, his eyes immediately filled with tears. He reached over across the strollers, diaper bags and mushed-in cookie pieces and put his hand over mine. 'Thank you, son,' he said.

"I smiled at him, confused. I figured it was the behavior of an absent-minded old man. I wasn't sure what was happening but as I looked in his eyes, I knew I'd never forget that look.

"He went on to describe in precise detail how the Canadian tanks rolled into his city in Holland and liberated them from the Germans. A soldier on one of the tanks pulled him up into the driver's seat. He was then a young teenager. He remembered the faces of those who went through hell with him, standing at the roadside clapping.

" 'That feeling of relief was something nobody could ever understand,' he said. He spoke of the bravery, the gentle nature and the kindness of those Canadian soldiers, his 'angels from the snow'.

"For the next hour and a half, our new friend described what life was like under the German occupation. Despite what he went through, he could recall the names of the few German soldiers who showed him some compassion. 'They were in a tough position,' he said. 'They didn't want to be there either.'

"He asked me about Canada, telling me it had always been a dream of his to visit. 'Tell me about the tides in New Brunswick. Tell me what your churches look like. Tell me what you see when you look toward Europe. Son, do you have any idea how lucky you are to be Canadian?'

"With my eyes now filling up as well, I replied, 'I do now, sir, thanks to you.'

"As we left the train, he thanked us over and over again, making sure we knew where we were going in the strange city. He gave us his address, as we promised to send postcards of tides, churches and oceans. Leaving the train on the Amsterdam platform that day, my wife and I couldn't believe what we had just experienced. The small tattoo of the Maple Leaf that was already on my chest took on such a different meaning. I wish every Canadian could have been sitting with me during those 90 minutes.

"We all complain about the six months of snow and ice, or being overtaxed, or government bureaucracy. But we live in a country that represents strength, kindness, compassion and hope around the world. If you have travelled anywhere with your Canadian backpack, you know I am telling the truth.

"I took it for granted before that train trip, but I never will again. On July 1st, celebrate our nation. It's pretty good, eh?"

6 comments:

Sans Pantaloons said...

Happy Canada Day Julia!
Thank you for posting this piece. It is excellent.

Kailana said...

Happy Canada Day!

The tulips that we get from them look so nice at Parliament Hill and other government places. We may not always like the government, but you can appreciate the buildings and landscape they take up. :)

I met the prince of Holland (for all I know he is king by now... royal families is not one of my specialties) when I was in high school, and his speech was amazing. All of Canada's veterans are his godparents. It was phenomenal to watch. :)

julia said...

Wow, Kailana - very cool!

Rebecca said...

hope you had a happy Canada day Julia!

Kelly said...

That just gave me chills. I love being Canadian.

littlebirdblue said...

Canadians are the coolest.