It was the winter of 1968-69 and a little girl bundled in thrift shop boots, mitts, and coat was trudging between the deep snow banks to school with her sister. That winter made the record books for its long spell of astoundingly cold temperatures and the enormous quantity of snow that fell from the wintery grey sky. The young girl was enthralled by winter, the wide open spaces, and the endless sky. It was so different from the tropical climate of her birth country where people lived in crowded quarters under a horizon that was barely visible to a little person. She fell in love with Canada, with the glorious freedom of space and the magical sky.
Strong and FreeOne year of Canada and the little girl knew with the certainty that only a seven year old can have - that Canada would be her home. Her spirit was enchanted with the idea of the strong and free. She was already strong as a result of her parents nomadic lifestyle. It was the freedom that was so enticing. Freedom from crowds, noise, pollution, and expectations. She dreamed of some day when she would have a home in the land of the strong and free. She imagined a day when the wandering around the earth that formed her childhood would stop and there would be a home with roots, space, and sky. It was a ridiculous notion, given that her parents' home was in England and their work was in Taiwan. But the young girl's spirit was already strong and free, strong enough to dream impossible dreams and free enough to believe in the ridiculous.
Land of Hope
|Southern Alberta Skyline|
In her dreams, Canada was the land of hope. One short year, that's all she had to form those strong ties to the dreams and hope that spoke to her young soul. Then it was over and she was back in the busy noisiness of Asia enjoying the best mangoes in the world and swimming outdoors for hours on end. It wasn't a bad life. She was happy, but in the corners of her imagination she longed to go back someday to the land of hope. God must have heard her imaginings and prayers because four years later she stepped onto Canadian soil again and this time the adults were sending signals that the nomad lifestyle might be over.
She tried really hard to grow up quickly believing that would give her some control over the future. As soon as she was legally able to work she nabbed a job. The day she turned sixteen she took her drivers test. At seventeen she moved out and left town because moving out meant no one else could move you somewhere else without your consent. By eighteen she had her Canadian citizenship. It was a warm summer day in Edmonton when she walked into the government offices to answer questions about the history of Canada and about herself, to convince a citizenship judge that she would make a fine Canadian.
The judge was a woman, and the teenage girl would always remember the small cramped room and the judge's face. Everything the girl had dreamed of was riding on a series of innocuous questions about history and self. Across from her sat the woman who held the keys to her dream of being strong and free in the land of hope. The girl messed up the answer on one of the dates in a question about Canadian history and the judge let her know she had blown it and asked her where she had gone to school. In that moment the girl felt panicked. There was not enough air in the room, she was staring down a slightly sarcastic citizenship judge and the great Canadian dream was at risk all because of a date.
But traipsing the world had taught the girl a thing or two and she wasn't about to let the dream get away. She knew that people respond to stories, so she launched into a story about her nomadic childhood and the five different school systems in four different countries that she had navigated as a child. The judge softened as the girl told her of her Canadian dream that had started in 1968.
I was that girl, and in fact I am still that girl. I love Canada Day because it gives me a chance to relive the story. What's your story of the great Canadian dream? Were you born here and do you take it for granted? Did you choose to come here or were you transported here by your parents? Did you know that Oh Canada has four verses and we only sing the first verse?
God Keep Our LandIn 1980, the same year that the girl became a Canadian, Oh Canada was declared the official national anthem via an Act of Parliament and Royal Assent. The fourth verse of the anthem takes the form of a prayer that builds on the refrain "God keep our land". It has an old-fashioned flavor with the use of words like Dominion. But it is a timeless plea to a supreme being to help us find a lasting reward, a reward that transcends time and space and that nourishes our spirits making them strong, free, and full of hope. The fourth verse is my prayer for you and for Canada as we celebrate Canada Day 2014.
"Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,Hold our Dominion, in thy loving care.
Help us to find, O God, in thee,
A lasting rich reward."