Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Plea for Compassion

Facebook is on fire with political commentary right now, and for the most part I try to avoid it, but today I feel I need to say something. When Prime Minister Trudeau stated that Canada would welcome those fleeing terror and persecution, one of my fellow Canadians posted a rather nasty reply pointing out that "millions" of Canadians are starving already, implying that there isn't enough to go around so we should close our borders too. And I couldn't stay silent.

Yes, four million people in Canada are food insecure. (Which I'm attempting to help address, in hopefully more useful ways than posting on Facebook.) But 30 million aren't, and they're able and most likely willing to help those who are. There are resources and options for the poor to turn to. Even the homeless are entitled to health care. We don't have bombs falling on our streets. Yes, we have room for improvement. Of course we do. We're human. But even our poorest are better off than many around the world. (Just watch True Cost if you have doubts about that.) Knowing that women in Bangladesh are living on $10 a month doesn't make the poor here feel any better, I'm sure, but I offer it as a contrast to keep things in perspective. I have never seen a naked beggar in the streets of Toronto. I've never seen a woman purposely mutilate her child so that it could win more sympathy here. The homeless man I meet every day on my way to work is warmly dressed and sells newspapers to passers-by. His name is Gary and I stop to talk with him occasionally just to touch base and keep tabs on him. He has a shelter to go to at night and food available when he decides to take advantage of it.

I'm not saying we don't have problems here. There's a lot of work to be done. But going out to work in a food bank or clothing drive is more helpful than making snarky off-the-cuff comments on social media. If this gentleman isn't happy about the poor among us, what is he doing about it? The whole idea of living here is that if you need help, you can reach out for it, and if you can offer help, you extend it. That's how this is supposed to work.

I came to Canada 27 years ago, not as a refugee but as an immigrant. From the moment I showed up at the border in a snowstorm at midnight with a fussy baby in arms and not all the right paperwork, I have been shown nothing but kindness. (The border guard let me in, with a suggestion that I get the required medical done in the next few weeks.) I have encountered generous and genuinely friendly people. People who help you carry strollers up the stairs at the subway, who let you merge into heavy traffic in front of them, who help each other shovel snow without thinking about it. I have had so very few negative interactions with anyone, and usually that was due to simple misunderstandings. I've had many days where I seriously want to stand up in the subway, throw my arms wide, and announce to everyone: "Look at you all, sitting here so quietly and peacefully together! You are all from different backgrounds and cultures and religions, but you are sitting here together getting along and making this a pleasant place to live. Thank you!" Maybe someday I'll get up the courage to do it.

The remarks about Canada being diverse are true, at least in the Toronto area where I live. I am usually the only white female on the subway when I go to work, often the tallest person in a crowd, and I can (and have) counted about ten languages being spoken around me as I walk down the sidewalk. (My husband used to wear a kilt and yarmulke, for heaven's sake.) Church potlucks are great because you get anything from jerked goat and cod tongues to curry and dumplings. Last week I went to the public library at around 5:00, and there were four or five Muslim teenage boys quietly gathered in a corner with their prayer rugs, whispering through their prayers. Not attracting attention. Just quietly showing their devotion. And not an adult around to make them do it. The other library patrons quietly moved around them, giving them space and privacy to pray. I've seen Muslims drop right in the Tim Horton's parking lot (off to one side) with their portable rugs at prayer time, and no one bats an eyelash. (The first time I saw a man kneel on the parking lot median, my first impulse was to stop and ask if he needed assistance...and then I saw the rug and realized he hadn't dropped his keys or had a fall. It was kind of funny, actually.) The point being that you are allowed to be yourself here, and people give you room to do it.

Even though Canada isn't perfect, it has an attitude of caring and welcome and kindness, and our first impulse isn't to blockade ourselves in a bunker; it's to reach out with compassion. As long as our first impulse is to do that, we're on the right track. Can we help everyone? No. But we want to, and that is what makes me love it here.

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