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Facts & Arguments

I was the kind of Canadian who took digs at the biggest city in the country. But now I live in it, Sophie Nadeau writes

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Several months ago, my life exploded. The end of my 11-year relationship came as we moved to Toronto. It was as though we relocated on top of a landmine. The convergence of those details sound dramatic. We both wished they didn't but so it goes. Change is tough.

Now, I'm a single co-parent with an unexpected life and a lot of worried friends and family. I'm alone in Canada's big, expensive city. But, life has a way of giving you exactly what you need when you need it.

I'm the kind of Canadian who has lived in places where taking digs at Toronto was a sport.

As a kid in New Brunswick, I remember the men in my life arguing over beer about whether cheering for the Maple Leafs might be a sign of insanity. The dislike often ran deeper. Toronto was a place to avoid with its noise, dirt and, most of all, its rude, obnoxious people who would avoid eye contact and bus stop small talk.

As I moved through high school, and then university, in Saskatchewan, those ideas deepened with distance and open sky.

My best friend, who was born and raised in Toronto, would annoyingly insist there was nothing better. And, someday he was sure I would tell him he was right.

While I had spent a year in a Toronto suburb, I was only four and felt ill equipped to evaluate his position. His superior tone, however, deepened my negative view.

While working in Ottawa at the beginning of our relationship, Toronto was a useful comparison to validate choices. Cheaper houses and child care. Better benefits and support.

I was visiting Toronto more and more for work and though I came home with great stories about how fun it was, it was rare to go a week without hearing from friends, "I could never move to Toronto."

But we did. Looking back on that decision, I think we leapt into the big city to escape whatever was suffocating us. The 11-year relationship, maybe. (That seems obvious now.)

But, also, the idea that we each needed more. We both wanted to stretch.

The strange seamless and painful transition fell upon us. Instantly, I was treading the flow of the city that everyone I knew loved to hate.

But, in the big city, there's no time for tears.

The line between drowning and thriving in Toronto can be a thin one.

I unexpectedly found comfort in other people who were working like hell to stay on the thriving side of that edge. In Toronto, there is breathing room in the idea that you can't afford to stop moving.

I needed to look for beauty and ideas everywhere to counter the effects of my exploding life. I've been to Paris and lived for the surprise of turning a corner and falling in love. Toronto is no different. There is comfort in the unknown and in the flow of a vibrant, changing metropolis that drives life forward with or without us.

The best part of my new life is my twice-a-day habit of climbing the stairs of the Wallace Avenue Footbridge.

It is a rare steel-truss bridge, built in 1907 that will carry you over the train tracks dividing Junction Triangle, where I now live, and into High Park North.

Hundreds of trains speed through this corridor. Thousands of humans moving through their lives. This is the daily spot where Toronto's history and future meet.

From that perch, Toronto is art. Inspiration. Depending on the day, the CN Tower is a sundial marking time for busy commuters heading downtown. At night, joined by shining skyscrapers, it is a beacon reminding me to keep moving forward after a long day.

The changing skyline is proof of our endless drive to chase our needs and never actually catch them. A tenacious reminder of our insignificance in an ever-changing world. We live on a spinning planet that none of us control. And, gosh, that's a beautiful thing.

Underground, my heart finds solace. There is a soothing rhythm in the sound of the subway whooshing into Dundas West station. I love sharing nearly silent, packed subway cars with other humans. Together. Alone. With no Wi-Fi, a forced contemplation.

Where, if you pay attention, you can sort out who you really are and where you might want to go.

I've grown accustomed to settling into a meditative daze, waiting for the train to speed up and out of stations. I watch until the view fades to black and I'm faced with my reflection in the subway doors.

And, from the people, energy. Watching our kids boundlessly enjoy the day without any of the weight of life's complexity. There is love here from every corner of the world.

I am convinced that everything I ever believed about Toronto is fundamentally wrong. It makes we wonder what else I might be wrong about.

Toronto has taught me it is better to give yourself over to the truth rather than fight against the natural flow of things. In this city, I'm reminded that when you stop trying to make things different, you can appreciate life as it is. Joy in reality. Beauty in the everyday.

And, hope in people. I don't know if everything's going to be okay. But, I know I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Sophie Nadeau lives in Toronto.