Canada Love

Today this blog might as well be called Canada Love.

It’s all love, all day.  That’s because it’s Canada Day!  The one day where Canadians go wild with red and white pride and plaster that classic maple leaf everywhere (except maybe during the Olympics).

And we have good reason to be proud.  We have an embarrassment of natural riches in this country, and so much space to roam that it’s ridiculous.  We are the second largest country in the world, with the largest amount of water area and the most coastline.  It’s no wonder we’re such water-loving fools.  Our landscape is also incredibly diverse: from the red clay soil of PEI to the forests of Quebec to the expanse of the prairies to the majestic Rocky Mountains to the lonely arctic tundra.  It’s all impossibly beautiful.

People like to find fault with the places where they live.  It’s natural.  To complain is human.  And that’s one of the ways we make things better.  Canada is not perfect, but we have freedoms and opportunities that some people in the world can only dream of.

We should never forget that.

In Canada, girls are free to go to school and become whatever they want to be.  We are free to protest the decisions of our government without fear of persecution or death. Our country is run by people that we elect.  Medical care is considered a right, not a privilege.  People are free to love who they choose.

There is a quote about Canada on the wall of the Peace Tower in Ottawa that has always resonated with me and so beautifully sums up our country:

“No Canadian can stand and look at this cluster of buildings (…) without feeling that somewhere on this Hill, perhaps by a happy accident, architects, masons and stone carvers have managed to grasp and materialize the beauty of Canada, the vastness of its land, its loneliness, its youth and its hope” – Bruce Hutchison, The Unknown Country, 1944.

I love this country.

I love it for its beauty but also for so many other things.

I love our commitment to living peacefully and helping others to do the same.  I love our diversity.  We are a mish-mash of cultures and backgrounds and I love that we are always ready to welcome more.  I love that we believe the less fortunate of our population deserve to have their basic human rights met, and we are willing to work a little harder to ensure it.  Mostly, I love Canada for its hope.  A hope that there is a future where many cultures can live harmoniously together through mutual respect and cooperation.  As Bono famously said recently, “The world needs more Canada”.

I couldn’t agree more.

Here’s a song I usually play every Canada Day, from a proud Maritimer and Canadian, Classified.  Happy Canada Day!

I’ve Been Marked

I’ve been marked.  Literally.

By fate, by God, you decide.   But the truth is there is a large, splotchy brown birthmark covering most of the left side of my neck.  The type I have is called a cafe-au-lait birthmark, because it looks like spilled coffee.  Needless to say, it’s quite visible to the rest of the world, unless I’ve chosen to wear a turtleneck that day.  A babysitter once scraped my neck raw with a washcloth thinking it was dirt and she could wash it off.  I don’t know whether it occurred to me to tell her it was permanent and she was wasting her time.

As a teenager growing up in rural Nova Scotia, this aberration irritated me to no end.  I realized that people were struggling with much greater problems in the world than an innocent birthmark but to me, it felt like a big deal.  I looked different from everyone else and when you’re a teenager, being different is not good.  Your adolescent years are all about fitting in and sameness.

And I wanted to fit in.

I wanted to be the same.

I got teased about it some (kids called me dirty) but my worst bully was myself.  I hadn’t asked for this stain and I didn’t want it.  No one on TV or in magazines had a big birthmark on their neck.  I thought of it as separate from me, something that I had been burdened with enduring for all time.  Naturally, I started asking my parents if I could either cover it up or get rid of it.  My mother could see that it bothered me so she indulged me a little bit.  We tried a couple different types of makeup but nothing really did a very good job of hiding it.  And removal seemed out of the question.

One day my uncle Chappy was visiting during one of my tirades.  I don’t remember if I was asking for a new kind of makeup or some procedure I’d heard about that could laser off birthmarks but I was definitely making my distaste for my ‘mark’ known.

My uncle just looked at me and said, “Why would you want to cover it up?  It’s part of you”.

I was stunned into silence.

From that moment on, I stopped asking for makeup or laser treatments.  I realized Chappy was right and the birthmark was part of me, whether I had asked for it or not.  I’m not going to say I got over it completely right away.  I was still self-conscious about it sometimes but I never tried to cover it again.  After a while, I kind of forgot it was even there.

And the strange thing is that once it stopped being a big deal to me, it stopped being a big deal to everyone else too.  Occasionally I still got asked about it but that was rare and usually a new acquaintance.  One thing I’ve found is that people pick up on our insecurities about our so-called faults much more than our actual faults themselves.  And in kind, people are often much more willing to overlook our ‘faults’ than we are ourselves.

My uncle probably doesn’t even remember our conversation that day but I will be forever grateful to him.  He said exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.  It was not THE birthmark, it was MY birthmark.

A part of me.

Not something to be looked at as a burden but as a single puzzle piece in a much larger picture.  And now, with the benefit of 36 years of self-reflection, I’ve come to think of my birthmark not as a blemish but as a symbol of what’s unique about me.  I’m not like everyone else.  And that’s a good thing.

Just as we celebrate what is unique about the Maritimes here, we must also celebrate what is unique about each other.  Our differences define us.  They don’t make us better or worse, just individual.  Sometimes we need someone to tell us when we can’t see it – like I did.  In case you are struggling with a similar issue and don’t have your own Uncle Chappy to tell you, please allow me to pay it forward: some of the things that you might dislike most about yourself now is what makes you, you.  It’s part of you.  Embrace it, celebrate it, learn to love it.  You’ll be happier for it, I promise.

It’s true, I’ve been marked.

By fate, by God, I’ll let you be the judge.

But I’ve been marked.  And I like it.