Panic, Patriotism, and Purple Penguins

Photo by Hermes Rivera on

I woke up this morning in a panic. One minute I was dead to the world. The next minute I bolted out of bed as if my sheets were molten lava. I stood there muttering, “Oh crap,” over and over again. My eyes blinking wildly. Focus. Focus. Is that the time? Oh crap!

I ran into the living rooming and looked around wildly. My dog looked up at me, cocked his head to the side, and yawned. By the look on his face, I assume he was thinking, “What the hell’s gotten into you?”

Excellent question my furry friend!

I picked up my phone and checked the time again, just to be sure there wasn’t a glitch in the matrix, but it all lined up. Except for the extra minute of panic. Wow, I’d been in a stone-cold panic for one whole minute and I still didn’t know why. Okay, I slept in and I never do that. Not even on a holiday. 

A holiday? Today’s a national holiday. Wait, hold up, take a deep breath. Today’s a holiday. Oh, okay that changes a few things. I can unclench all of my orifices. Bend over, hands on my knees, and exhale slowly because today is a holiday.

I’m writing this on July 1, 2020, which means today is Canada Day. Happy Birthday Canada! My home and adopted land. You are a beauty, that’s for sure, and I’m so thankful for everything you’ve given me. Safety, security, a health care system that’s kept me alive while not sending me into bankruptcy. 

Was that a humble brag? No, just overwhelming gratitude for the country I call home. 

We immigrated to Canada when I was five. My parents wanted us to grow up in a safer country than the one we were born in. No shade to that country. Lovely place. Beautiful scenery. Delicious food. A health and safety record that leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve said it before, but it’s amazing how much fear you can live in, and not know how afraid you are until it’s gone. I didn’t know I was so scared. I didn’t know that it wasn’t “normal” to live behind bars or hide every time I heard a loud bang. I didn’t know that doing home invasion, bomb evacuation, and active shooter drills weren’t the norm for everyone.

Coming to Canada opened my eyes to a different lifestyle that felt alien. Actually, when I first heard the name Canada, I thought my parents were taking us to a different planet. What is this Canada you speak of? I’ve never heard of it, therefore it must not be real. Is it a trick? Are you sure it exists? What if it isn’t real and when we get there, nothing’s there? Just a barren pink landscape full of purple penguins with three yellow feathers sprout from the top of its head.

What can I say? A child’s world is very small but their imagination is very large. Or, the hypnotic power of Dr. Seuss was a little too strong.

We were welcomed into this frozen tundra with warmth, compassion, and generosity. It was, we’d come to learn, the stereotypical Canadian way. Kind to a fault. Open doors and open hearts. It’s not something that’s done for show. It’s a way of life.

For me, when I look at my country now, I see a diverse society with an ingrained social conscience. The self, the individual, is defined as much by their community as their personal attributes. That means that we’re all in this together, and we strive to help the weakest of us become strong again. We work together to protect the vulnerable even if that means we sacrifice some of our strength because our greatest strength is unity.

To me, Canada means acceptance, kindness, safety but I’m not foolish enough to think that this is true for everyone. I wish it was! I wish you could experience Canada like I do but, sadly, the stereotype doesn’t encompass all. We’re imperfect. We have a system that’s broken, and those fractures damage the very thing that makes us so amazing.

We’re a young country with a long history that’s not the storybook we like to pretend that it is. We have a lot of growing up to do. We’re still stuck in our old ways of systemic racism and colonial idealism. We’re trying to break down those walls and turn it into a lush field with room for everyone. It’s hard work, but the work is being down.

Three steps forward and two steps back? Baby steps, that’s the best description, because, if you’ve ever watched a baby walk, you know they fall down a lot. That’s us, I think, moving forward with clumsy, jerking, movements that trip us up. Sitting still is easier. Crawling is more comfortable. Taking a nap sounds nice but up we get. Reluctantly and with plenty of fist-clenching tears. Sometimes with full-blown temper tantrums.

There are a lot of good people that are putting in the work to help us grow. Parenting us, if you will. Social activists. Leaders from diverse communities. Kind people with hearts of courage and boundless empathy. People from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds are putting in the time, the tears, and the sweat because being Canadian means, to me, not settling for good enough. It’s not enough for the greater good to succeed. No, we want everyone to succeed. This isn’t simply in idealism but it’s action and deeds that go beyond an anthem or a flag.

When we stand for our national anthem we sing, “In true patriots love…” Patriotism isn’t about that flag waving high in the sky or a song we sing before a hockey game. True patriotism isn’t seeing the best and ignoring the worst. Yes, patriotism is loving this country for what it is but, contrary to all the songs, love isn’t blind. 

Loving this country doesn’t mean stagnation but growth. We love her so much that we want her to become greater than anything we can imagine. It’s seeing the flaws, the broken pieces, and doing everything in our power to fix what’s been shattered. It’s acknowledging our dark history and doing everything we can to heal the very deep wounds.

I love my country so much that when the wounds are exposed my heart breaks. I can’t even begin to understand the depth of the pain some of you have experienced. As I said, my experience as a Canadian has been idyllic. I’m spoilt rotten. Hearing your stories though? Seeing your reality on a tv screen? It’s a tale of two countries within one border.

How many indigenous people have lost their lives to a system that, we’re told, was put in place to “help”? A system that hurt so many of you and a system that’s continues to play our history on a loop. There are people living without clean water in a country that has the ability to send a person to space. We can put someone on a space station but we can’t deliver adequate medical care to remote communities within our own borders. 

It’s shocking, heartbreaking, and I’m so sorry for my own ignorance. We’re better than this! I know we are because you welcomed me, this stranger from a distant land, with open arms and a heart of gold. You gave so freely of yourselves and I’m so grateful. If you can do that for me, for my family, then surely we can take care of the people who’s land we stand on. The land we stole. 

That’s right, I said it. But, saying it is still controversial which says a lot about where we are in our development. It says a lot about how much work still needs to be done.

When I woke up this morning, I was in a panic because I thought today was tomorrow. In my half-asleep haze, I thought I’d messed everything up. I thought I was letting people down. I thought I’d missed some important deadlines. Then I woke up and now…

I’m trying to write a tribute to the country I love and it’s morphing into something I’m afraid to post. Pointing out our flaws, our failures, is akin to treason. Especially on a day we celebrate her birth. It just not done but birth, of a person or a nation, is not without suffering. How can we celebrate a birth without acknowledging the labour? The pain, the tears, the blood that’s been spilled. Some of that blood has been spilled for our freedom. Some has been spilled for our pleasure.

Acknowledging one doesn’t negate the other. It’s is not contrary to love our country but want it to change. Two things, no matter how opposing they may seem, can be true and wrapping our brains around that is enough to trigger a little bit of panic. It feels unnatural. It feels like an assault. It feels too big so we fight it or pretend it doesn’t exist. 

Not here. Not in Canada. We’re too nice for that sort of thing. We turn our eyes to our flag, place a hand over our hearts, and sing as loud as we can. We look away. We drown out the cries. We call anyone who objects a traitor and tell them to go back where they came from.

Don’t get me wrong, our flag and anthem have their place as symbols of noble idealism: Unity, community, human rights, peace, freedom, and the list goes on. They do represent these ideals on a global, and personal, stage. They have meaning and I would never discount or dismiss their significance.

I wear my flag with pride because I’ve lived under another flag that, for me, holds reminders of fear and pain. I love the flag that flies overhead. It saved my life. It saved my family. It’s given me so much and asked for so little in return.

When I travel, I proudly stitch the maple leaf onto my backpack because I am proud to be Canadian. I’m often treated with a great deal of respect because of the flag on my bag. It’s my shield that protects me from harm, but it’s also a sign of kindness. That’s our reputation. We’re kind. Sure, some make a joke out of it and our politeness is a little extra, but we can take a joke so keep em coming.

Back home, however, we fail to protect our own and we don’t treat them with the kindness that we’re famous for. We perpetuate tired old stereotypes and turn away from people who are asking for nothing more than basic human decency. We do this while hearing the cries from other lands and we rush to help them, as we should, but what about our own?

Can’t we help our own as well?

You might read these words and hear treason in my voice, but please hear the love instead. I love my country with all of my heart but that love hasn’t stolen my sight. On the contrary, love has opened my eyes wide, and I see so many of you experiencing a vastly different Canada to the one I know. I see you struggling. I hear you asking for decency, kindness, and respect.

The same decency, kindness, and respect that I was unreservedly given when my feet landed on Canadian soil. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not the world. It’s the most Canadian thing we can do! We can be kind.

Maybe we can even get people clean water, adequate medical care, and there are a lot of women still missing on the Highway of Tears. You know, while we’re being kind and all.


5 thoughts on “Panic, Patriotism, and Purple Penguins

Add yours

  1. There’s a lot I take for granted being born & raised Canadian. It’s kind of ironic that when I was a kid, the place I wanted to visit most was South Africa!
    One of the things I appreciate about Canada the most is our lack of arrogance – we’re taking baby steps towards a more inclusive & fair future and we know we’re not perfect. We’re willing to acknowledge our mistakes & that we don’t have all the answers or solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You Canadians, sometimes I wish we could be more like you. Sometimes, even, I almost hate you. Mostly I forget, we Americans forget, that we live in the spoiling roiling heart of a sandwich between the slightly bland forests of the north and the spicy deserts of the south.
    Sorry Keri-Lee, I’m just in that kind of mood today.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh really? How about grumpy, grave, morbid, morose, derisive, deluded, exhausted, enturbulated, critical, crappy, sinful, sucky, inappropriate, incomprehensible?


    1. I’ve been all of those things, often at the same time, so I don’t fault your mood or anyone else’s. Especially with everything going on in the universe. The world is losing its collective mind. If that doesn’t bring on a wide range of moods? I don’t know what will.

      Liked by 1 person

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