“Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.” – Louis C.K.
Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada.
A few days ago, at the table next to me at Tim Horton’s a young black man chatted with an older white man. From their conversation I gathered the young man, whose English was quite good, had immigrated to Canada recently from Africa and the older man was his sponsor. Although the black man was somewhat nervous, their rapport seemed easy and genuine.
The older man recounted his weekend travels with his wife. They had driven to Kenora, explored that area a little, stayed in a hotel they’d never been to before then the next day decided to take a drive through the Interlake before returning to the city. As he listened, the expression on the young man’s face changed from keen interest to mounting confusion. Finally he said, “You are telling me that you are free to travel anywhere in Canada anytime you want? Is that what you are saying?” There was enormous disbelief in the young man’s voice and expression.
It took a moment for the sponsor to realize the source of the question but he replied that in Canada we have the right and are free to travel unrestricted anywhere we want. The young man’s surprised expression changed to thoughtful consideration then to a big smile that made the sponsor chuckle a little. The light of freedom had been lit in his head.
And in mine. I recognized how much of our freedom we take for granted, like freedom to travel without harassment, documents or restrictions. After driving 50,000 kms over the past two summers I suddenly became especially grateful for this freedom. We live in a vast sea of invisible realities that often require outsiders to point them out to us, allowing us an opportunity to be grateful, to be thankful for what we have. I appreciate the African man for his candid and sudden wisdom and hope it will serve him well in his new life.
Meanwhile, at the table opposite, two overweight middle-aged white men carped about how bad television is these days, how this seemed to be ruining their lives. Their topic defined their phantomhood and to whom they had forfeited their freedom. Ask not for whom the television tolls, it tolls for thee.
Whose freedom is more valuable: the new-found freedom of the young African or the devalued spent freedom of the white men? Who is more awake to freedom? Whose future brims with hope? I don’t like unanswered questions. The answer to all is the same: the young man.
As my friend Terry points out we have freedom to and freedom from in Canada, each bears its own responsibilities. While the young man knows he now has more freedom from oppression here, he is still learning the extent of that freedom. Newer to him are the freedoms to, which define his current possibilities, the range of his new instincts and just how far away the new horizon is. Both those freedoms, largely submerged in our culture, seldom emerge except when silhouetted against the life of a young African in a coffee shop. Oh Canada!
I’d be surprised if many readers of my blog have any problem finding something to be thankful for today, but, just in case, the above little story details something very specific – that you can drive anywhere you want in the country and have a Tim Horton’s coffee, maybe a bagel, without need of papers or passport! Wow! What a country!
Much less facetiously, every day I am enormously thankful I live in Canada. I have no will to travel anywhere else in the world. I am at home here, at home and grateful for every comfortable moment. Although we are in close proximity to, and increasingly under the influence of, the freeish United States, Canadians maintain an inner strength that defies loss of freedom. Canada is still a country where old hope inspires and new hope flourishes. I give heartfelt, lifelong thanks for that today.