3/3 – A Country Fair as Snow: Unlearning my Illusions

Once there was a little girl whose country was fair as snow.

 

That was the way she saw it.

 

That was the way she felt it.

 

And most importantly, that was the way she was told that it was.

 

Feelings confirmed by words, thoughts confirmed by actions, and the influences of everyone she trusted. Her parents said, “This is a great place to live. Be grateful for all you have.”  Her teachers said, “Let’s examine our history, which almost always concludes that this is a country that treats people fairly, where people are kind, where people matter to each other.”  Even the immigrant families living nearby had lives that looked like hers.

 

But she only had one set of eyes to look through. She thought the way she saw things, and the way she was told that things were, were the way that they were.

 

As she grew older, and traveled the world a little more, she came to see her home country even more clearly as the ideal place for living. She came to see how dirty other places could be, how corrupt, how unsafe. She wore her flag proudly the world over, because she had been told “others are proud of that flag, too.” A flag that always flew on the right side of a war. A flag worn by peacekeepers. A flag others borrowed. A flag representing nature, multicultural tolerance and coexistence, space and beauty and love of the land.

 

Living and traveling abroad, she first navigated persistent homesickness for the sake of adventure and experience. Of course, she also came to see how other places had traditions and practices she wanted to borrow for herself. In Korea, where food is always shared, she began to find it strange how a person could order a whole meal just for oneself.  In Thailand, when they used bags of sand to hold down signs, she realized that everyone does their best with what they have and she began to see whatever place she was a little more clearly. In the Middle East, where dates dripped off the grocery store shelves and tea was served with a spoonful of sugar, she realized that “news” and “reality” have a complex relationship. In Central America, she saw that fear of a neighbour is an image that causes such deep wounds in a system from the bottom to the top, and that the fear in her own heart did not have anything to do with what happened or didn’t happen on the street.

 

The friends she made, so often so different than her, became close without needing words for communication. She was always helped to speak; given time, support and correction. Then one of those friends traveled to her homeland, where he was bombarded with impatience, frustration and disdain each time he opened his mouth.

 

She began to realize that the fair, fair snow hid so many unspoken truths beneath. How does one grieve the loss of a place that never existed?

 

*         *        *        *        *   

 

The national book competition – Canada Reads – takes place this month. The theme: One Book to Open your Eyes. And open they are becoming. Between these readings and related national news coverage, I have learned that my beautiful country does not provide pads for every woman in jail – especially if they are black. I have learned that there are doctors teaching lessons on how indigenous patients feel less pain, and doling insufficient care to those appearing intoxicated, even when ‘intoxication’ symptoms are caused by a head injury. In CANADA. Which I type in capital letters with much trepidation and recognition of the deep privilege that allows me to be the least bit shocked by any of this.

 

The problems are everywhere, and no country is perfect. Why, then, did I leave school and leave my homeland with the persistent feeling that we were handling our challenges so well? For so long, Canada has struggled, and continues to struggle, to be defined as separate from the US. But our world is not defined by lines on a map any longer. We are interconnected; the undercurrents of today’s collective consciousness more strongly and rapidly connect us than ever before.

 

The solutions are everywhere, too. One of the greatest things about my country remains the national dialogue that allows this literary competition, and this radio programming, to reach me in Guatemala so my eyes can be opened to what is happening at home and I can continue to make connections between here and there and everywhere. There is a new collective consciousness at work in our world and I work to be part of it. If it means letting go of my long-held images, of my ego’s needs, of what I would rather be true but isn’t, I am more willing than ever to take on that challenge.

 

Things have changed so much since my youth, which was truly not that long ago. And I am now out in the world, a grown up, perhaps ‘future-shocked’ student, that was only somewhat adequately prepared by a well-meaning, even fairly benign, public education. And as educators the world over attempt to prepare students for an unknown future of their own, we are all so well aware that learning cannot take place only between 9:00 and 3:00. My education continued with travel, and an overdue love of public radio, and by getting to know people who challenged my views. I have always reached for new opportunities to learn, but perhaps I am finally conscious that to unlearn, and relearn, may be the most important work of all. 

 

 

3/3 #SOL18

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. This was a really thought-provoking post. I could relate to what you said about growing up and being told that your country is perfect and honorable and then understanding that well, maybe not always….or maybe our history shows we haven’t always been fair or kind. When I was an elementary student, I never remember hearing the dark side of the USA. As a teacher now, it’s a fine line between teaching history and letting students know there are more voices that need to be part of the conversation.

    Like

  2. It’s funny (strange, not haha), but I thought you were writing about America until I got to the part where you shared that you’re writing about Canada. It is incredible what we can really see when we open our eyes to the injustices that surround us.

    Like

  3. ureadiread says:

    You’ve crafted an amazing slice. I didn’t notice, before I read it, that you are originally from Canada. So much of what you said rings true for my home as well. When you revealed it was Canada, it made me realize that we all have multiple layers of impressions, beliefs, and assumptions to peel away to find something closer to what is real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mel marie says:

      Multiple layers indeed. And finally I am realizing that without doing that work, on myself and on the world around me, we miss so so much.

      Like

  4. glenda funk says:

    As I read I was certain you were talking about the US until I was certain you weren’t. It saddens me to see this Canadian reality in print, even though I realize nocountry is perfect, and I’m grateful for the refuge Canada provide many young men fleeing the US during the Vietnam War.

    I suppose I wanted to hold onto an idealistic image of my neighbor to the north.

    I’m also sad to see others have not found this post. Your writing is clear and eloquent. Your analysis important.

    Like

    1. mel marie says:

      Thank you for comment. For so long, I didn’t want to hear, or believe, let alone share this side of a complex truth because I love my country very much, as so many of us do. I want it to be different. I want it to be the way I always thought it was. And for a long, long time I thought that knowing this, and sharing it would make it more true, or would disillusion others. I want Canada to be seen as beautiful, as we all want places and people we love to be seen the way we see them. And it is definitely an incredible place to live… especially if you are privileged enough to see only the beauty. But more and more I realize need to lose my illusions so I can include the truth in what I love, and then work from a knowledgeable place for the outside to match the inside.

      Like

  5. Read, Write, Travel, Repeat says:

    You are such an incredible writer. This was is especially beautiful. I like that you chose to write it in third person. It works so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. aggiekesler says:

    This is a beautifully reflective slice. As an expat, I, too, have had many of my opinions, values, and beliefs challenged as I have met people from all over the world and experienced many different cultures. I found that I was so close-minded at first, convinced that my way was the ‘right’ way. I’m so thankful I have been able to experience so much that has helped me grow and change. Challenging your beliefs isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

    Like

  7. jehansen13 says:

    Your reflection really gave me cause for thought tonight. Thank you for your honesty, which helps others to be honest as well. It is remarkable how our perceptions change over time and what we once thought was “right” and “good” is maybe not entirely so…

    Like

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