This year on Canada Day, between the picnic and the fireworks and the rock concert and the ice cream cone and walking the dog, I intend to get down on my knees and thank God I live in this country. I live here not because I deserve it or because I am smarter than anyone else, but because I am lucky enough to have ancestors who came here a couple of hundred years ago, from not-desperate backgrounds, and whose descendants have lived in modest comfort and incredible freedom ever since.
In the morning I do not wake up on the border of Syria, trying to push my way across into a refugee camp in Lebanon, where a million people have preceded me, desperately hoping there will be enough United Nations-supplied water and food to get me through the day. I do not wake up in the Central African Republic, consumed by fear of my machete-wielding neighbour, or worse still, wielding a machete myself, out to slash my neighbour in the name of some trumped-up religious quarrel, before he slashes me. I do not wake up in Israel, where every country in the region is committed to my destruction. I do not wake up in North Korea, where my brain is washed away by fear and propaganda. I do not wake up in northern Nigeria where my niece can be kidnapped for going to school.
I wake up here, to the smell of morning coffee. I complain about the traffic, and shake my fist at the construction. I worry about the effects of last winter’s ice storm on my boxwood hedge. I discuss with my husband the possibility of going to the country this weekend. I tsk-tsk at the price of imported mangoes. I telephone my city councillor to rail against the Chorley Park switchback. I chuckle with friends at the trouble a politician is in over remarks he made over Mothers Day – or was it Fathers Day? – of such importance that it was the lead item on the national news. We decide we shouldn’t even have greeting card holidays. We watch tennis matches on television. We vigorously disagree on the results of the provincial election. I decide to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a long-postponed browse.
What did I, and so many of us, do to deserve this incredible good fortune? To live in a country where no wars have been fought for two hundred years. A country with big freedoms – freedom of movement, freedom of political choice, freedom of religion, freedom from arbitrary persecution. But equally important a country of small freedoms: where we don’t have to think about politics every day, where the idea of armies marching up our streets is unthinkable, where daily life is secure and can consist of innumerable small decisions made freely and safely.
Yes, I am aware that Canada is no Utopia. I know about poverty and racism and workplace safety and the environment and all the other problems people wrestle with – including, sometimes, even me. On July 2 I will get back on to doing something about those issues where I can.
But on Canada Day, although I will laugh and celebrate, more important, I will utter a fervent thank you.