I told my father. He said: “We are American — we’re North American!”
Hogwash. America had a beautiful flag. Ours was weird. The Maple Leaf? What was that supposed to mean to a kid parked in the butt-end of Manitoba? The only Maple we had was Manitoba Maple — a weed more than a tree, really.
America had a great national anthem. Canada’s paled in comparison. “With glowing hearts we see thee rise” — those words didn’t make a lick of sense to a five-year-old. “But the rocket’s red glare/The bombs bursting in air” — that was more like it!
Five-year-olds in 1970 were well aware that America had all the good television. Before we got to the spectacular razzle-dazzle of Sesame Street we had to sit though Chez Hélène, The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dressup. Canadian five-year-olds didn’t have to take a nap in the afternoon — we’d been snoozing all morning.
Even sliced bread was more interesting in America than Canada. They had Snoopy on the bag!
|Now, more than ever.|
In 1970 the Kindergarten half-day began with us singing “O Canada” and concluded with us singing “God Save The Queen.”
“Mom, why does the Queen need saving? Is she sick in the hospital?”
“Well, that’s not really what ‘save’ means in this context . . .”
“Is it dangerous for her to live in Canada?”
“The Queen doesn’t live in Canada. She lives in London, England.”
“Then how is she the Queen of Canada?”
“She’s not the Queen of Canada, she’s . . . it’s complicated. You’ll understand when you get older. Say, isn’t it almost time for Mr. Dressup?”
Complicated? Actually, it was just plain weird. That was Canada, all the way around — weird, in a boring way.
Fifty years later our nation’s relationship with “Mother England” is still weird, but the history of it makes damnable sense. In 1870 my forebears understood the British were the ones making Canadian soil available to them for our families and farms. When they sang “God Save The Queen” they meant it. But Mennonites also have a long history of being driven off land that’s suddenly valuable to people with armies. 150 years later we’re coming round to the realization that perhaps Britain’s claims on our behalf and benefit were just a touch presumptive.
Americans gained independence. That’s clear thinking. I envied that.
But what are we ever, finally, independent of? What does manifest independence even look like, except an open grave? To be alive at all is to be in dependence of a dynamic network vastly beyond our capacity to ever fully apprehend.
“The digital age is built on the backs of runaway systems” — Jazzman Ted Gioia reflects on the wisdom of Gregory Bateson, extoller of the feedback loop.