by Margaret Atwood
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
My friends just became officially Canadian. The ceremony was in Olympic Plaza last week.
I remember my citizenship ceremony. I hadn’t ever planned on becoming a Canadian. I just came travelling, seeking snow, and found a fella. After years of filling out paperwork and being caught in a unwieldy bureaucratic quagmire, I was caught off guard by how emotional I felt as I was officially inducted as a Canadian. It felt like such a relief to have an official status, to be enfolded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to be standing among all those other people who became Canadian that day, and all their different stories.
I am immensely grateful for this life, this home, this place, this country.
But I also acknowledge that my privilege, (here, and in the country where I was born) came through the suffering of other people, the aboriginal people, through their forced silence, through violence done to them. It’s hard to reconcile with that. To know how to move forward. Because I like my life. Does reconciling with that mean I have to give something up?
This poem, by Margaret Atwood, feels like a little clue.
I am enfolded here. I am working hard to tend my shallow roots, to contribute, to help make my community the kind of place I want to live. But I don’t own any of it. I’m always a guest, a visitor, passing through, so grateful that the cosmic dice rolling sent me here. And I am frankly in awe of my neighbours who sing songs that are thousands of years old, whose ancestors walked this land, and knew its secret language. And for their years and years of suffering, I am so sorry.
Image by Benni Pause/Flickr