(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, July 1, 2023)
BANFF, ALTA – I know Canada as much as anyone. I’ve tasted its vastness. Live long enough with even a half-curious mind and you’ll get out here and there. I’ve spent time in each of our provinces.
Even today I’m in the mountains of Banff with my boy, Jonathan, celebrating his 18th birthday, his entry into adulthood, while we also celebrate this nation that stretches its wings from sea to shining sea.
I’ve also lived outside Canada enough to know that you’ll appreciate it more when you’re, funny-enough, completely gone. There’s something to be said for absence making the heart fonder. A striking photo of Jonathan taken not long ago in Uganda reminds me.
He and his Ugandan boyhood friend, Brian, are walking through lush, tropical greenery under a gentle Africa sunset. With a soccer ball in-hand, Jon is barefooted. It’s a peaceful moment as the two young men simply enjoy each other’s company.
Our three children largely grew up in the East African nation, where they recently visited, and where their hearts remain. The photo, taken serendipitously by my Ugandan-born daughter, Hannah, captures this: a spirit of past, present and, somehow, future.
This is what I’ve told my children. Remember where you come from. Never forget your history. Your story. It’s who you are. Your story, including the hard parts, is all that you’ll ever really have in this passing life. My prayer is that long after I’m gone they’ll remember this.
My desire is also that their stories will lead them – as Canadian citizens with significant benefits – to later, on their own, return with a rhythm to the other side of the world to give something of themselves, in this case to a developing nation that has its needs, along with its lessons.
Because, like people, nations have their stories. Their identities. Things that set them apart. Our sitting prime minister once said otherwise, telling the New York Times, “There’s no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” He called Canada the world’s “first post-national state.”
Gosh. One wonders what shocking thoughts can clank around in a prime minister’s head. Canada isn’t homogenous, true. We’re many races and ethnicities. But we still have a core identity rooted in Canada’s story: its history, traditions and experiences. It’s all inseparable.
Canada is a democracy, for starters. We each have rights, and responsibilities, while we live as different peoples together. Our founding fathers forged things this way.
Looking at the land, they borrowed from the Hebrew Psalmist who wrote of the Creator’s spirit having “dominion from sea to sea.” This is where Canada’s official motto “A Mari usque ad Mare, “From Sea to Sea,” originates, and why Canada was historically called a “Dominion.” There’s a sense of stewardship not unlike what’s understood so well by Canada’s First Nations.
Of course, any nation’s founding fathers can get kicked around. It comes with the territory. I don’t know many fathers out there who don’t have a few bruises. What interests me more is another ancient thought, a prophecy about healing through the leaves of a good tree.
From the book of “Revelation,” it looks to tomorrow, to Eden restored, and is written by the old prophet and apostle John while he was exiled and left to rot on the island of Patmos. It relates to a certain tree of life, how “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.”
What’s interesting is that some commentators suggest Canada can easily be seen as having this sort of prophetic, healing role. Worldwide, our flag’s dominant leaf certainly stands out. So let others parade, say, their fighter jets. We’re called to other things.
In this, we can walk in peace and let our story give direction. It’s true for families, and nations, both. It’s not the only thing about Canada to celebrate this weekend. But it’s a fitting thought, and it shouldn’t be missed amidst everything else going on.