Monday, January 5, 2009

Count Your Many Blessings

This blog is my attempt to put into some kind of order some of the things I’ve learned about trying to improve my lot in life, knowledge I’ve accumulated over the course of many years.

Currently, I’d say that I’m in a good place, with lots of room for improvement, of course. But it wasn’t always that way for me. I was a victim of bullies as a child, one whose Grade Five teacher told her mother that she’d always be a social misfit. I’ve been raped. I’ve had cancer, and now have no thyroid. My sister, who was younger than I by a scant fifteen months, killed herself. I’ve thought about committing suicide myself, and battled with depression for much of my life. My youngest son is autistic. I’ve been on welfare, and I’ve had to declare bankruptcy. I’ve been fired from a job, and quit from a couple of others about a minute and a half before I was fired again.

When I tell you what I’d do in someone else’s place to make things better, I’m probably not talking about what I’d do if I were in their place, but what I did when I was in their place. There’s a big difference here—the difference between the theoretical and the practical. I’ve had the practical lessons, and I know from experience that what I’ve done really works, at least for me.

All of this is incredibly heavy to put in a single paragraph, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I just wanted to say in the strongest way possible that I’ve been there, done that, got the tee shirt and got the Hell out. And that no matter how bad it is, life can and will get better if you work at it.

One of the things that I’ve done throughout my life that’s helped me through the tough spots is counting my blessings. I’m doing so again tonight because I just finished reading a few blog posts that Rob McCreery, a friend of mine, made over a period of about a year in his blog. Rob is an ex-pat American who’s made Australia his home over the last fifteen years, and he listed fifty things (out of a list of a hundred—come on, Rob, and finish that list, will you? :D) that he loves about his adopted homeland.

Many of the things on that list make me want to visit Australia. But I realized that no matter how crazy I am to visit that beautiful country, I’d never want to move there. Because I am Canadian, and unless forced to against my will, I will never live anywhere else.

I’m tempted to do what Rob did, and start a list of 100 things I love about my home and native land, but I think I’ll give it just this post, and see where we get.

So, what I love about Canada:

1) Socialized Medicine: Some things should not ever be “for profit,” and necessary medical care is one of them. Even the poorest Canadian does not have to go into debt to get proper pre-natal care, or have their appendix removed, or get treatment for cancer. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.

2) Four Seasons: Yes, I complain about snow and ice as much as the next Canadian, but when it really gets right down to it, I love snow days where everyone is home curled up in front of the television together, and the white blanket covers all the grime and the muck with a beautiful sparkling cover. And sorry Rob, but Christmas on the beach is just wrong, unless you're part of a Polar Bear swim club. I may not like the song, but I’m all for a white Christmas.

Crisp clear cold autumn days, where we go driving in the country, just looking at the leaves. Lothlorien has nothing on an Ontario hardwood bush in late September or early October.

Forest floors covered with millions upon millions of trilliums in the spring. Summers spent lying on white sand beaches, soaking up the sun. And I don’t have to travel more than a couple of hours from home to do any of this.

3) We’ve got it all: Mountains and plains, arctic tundra and rain forests, Pacific islands and Atlantic islands, rocky shores and white sand beaches, and half the world’s fresh water. Lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls…

My father’s family was mostly originally from Austria, and after they emigrated, someone sent my father a letter from Austria (which apparently has exactly five lakes) asking, “How many lakes are there in Canada?” My grandfather sent back a map and said, “You count them!”

I think my kids and I are part fish, really. We love being around water, and my kids have swum in all five Great Lakes, even in Lake Michigan, which isn’t in Canada, but should be.

4) Hockey. I don’t play it, but I used to play road hockey, just like every other Canadian born. I've laced up a pair of skates to shoot a puck on the backyard rink. Hung out at the arena and cheered on the local team.

Actually, that’s something I’m doing rather more of these days, as one of the theatres I work in is in a shopping plaza, and right smack dab in the middle of that shopping plaza is an ice arena. How Canadian can you get?

5) Multi-culturalism. I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area, which I was once told is the city that comes closest to having a population make-up similar to that of Planet Earth. When I was growing up, it was said to have the second-largest Italian population of any city in the world, behind Rome, Italy.

Immigrants from all over the world have come to live there—so many that as someone who was not only born in the city, but has both a father and a son who were born in the city (making three generations of Torontonians) I’m not only unusual, I’m so rare as to be a member of a nearly extinct minority.

That’s not a bad thing, in my humble opinion. I can get real Chinese food, real Italian food, real food from any culture in the world, in fact, all without leaving the city. You can also experience dance, music, film and visual art from all of those cultures—truly an experience to be savoured.

6) We share the longest undefended border in the world, and we share it with one of the most powerful nations in the world.

We may make fun of our neighbours to the south (and to the north, since Alaska is also part of the US), but when push comes to shove, Americans and Canadians can still cross over the border with relative ease. That shared border peace is something both nations should celebrate, and work to preserve.

7) We have some things Boston, New York and Switzerland don’t have: We have Boston Pizza (a chain started in Edmonton that hasn’t reached Boston yet, as far as I know), New York Fries (which started off in New York, but were bought out by a couple of Canadians who knew they were on to something good), and Swiss Chalet (and I’ve been told that Switzerland doesn’t even have chickens!). It’s so totally Canadian to deny that anything good can come from Canada by giving it an American or European name, while celebrating the fact that it’s 100% Canadian!

8) We have poutine. I don’t know how Americans can possibly think themselves the monarchs of heart-attack cuisine when you can’t get poutine in the States! French fries, lovingly slathered with cheese curds and gravy—just about the most heavenly thing on earth to eat on a cold winter’s day.

9) We have two official languages. Others may disagree with me on this, but I think I’m a better person because I can read a little bit in another language, and I can only do that because I was forced to take French in school. I find it sad that while most French Canadians can, if necessary, function in both languages, most English-speaking Canadians can make no such boast.

10) We have some of the biggest and most beautiful parks in the entire world. I spend a part of every summer, if I can, in Algonquin Provincial Park. I’ve been there in all four seasons, including week-long camping trips in the depth of winter when the temperature reaches forty below zero. I’ve been to Banff National Park, and Lake Superior Provincial Park. We even have one park that’s under water—Five Fathoms National Park in the Bruce Peninsula. It’s where I learned to scuba dive.

Seeing all the provincial and national parks in Canada is a goal worthy of a lifetime—my lifetime!

I’ll stop at ten for now, so I don’t bore you to tears, but you get the idea.

When I think of Canada, it isn’t pride that fills me so much as a deep and abiding contentment with my lot in life and my place in the world. I wish for every one of you to find that contentment, whether like me you were born in the place you belong, or like Rob you have to go out and find it.

When you do find your “place,” I invite you to take pictures and write your own list. So that when you’re feeling down about your lot in life or yourself, you have something to look at that will help you realize that things aren’t always bad, and that you have a home to retreat to.


Janet said...

Good stuff. I would second almost all of those.

I've been there, done that and bought the tee shirt too (although mine is a bit different in cut and colour than yours), but I think I'm happier now than ever.

Didn't realize I was getting in on the ground floor when I clicked on your AW signature link.

Ruth Cooke said...

Thanks, Janet. I think I may have a few readers who don't leave comments, but it's nice to have tangible evidence that somebody is reading and enjoying what I write. :)