Saturday, February 28, 2009

Share the Land

It's a cold, clear, sunny day, the kind of winter day I actually like. I am driving into town to run some errands with my two youngest children in the back seat. I'm picking up my oldest from her job and driving her to her new apartment after. This post may start off as a lesson in helping others however it's more of a commentary on how the universe provides lessons in many places but the most valuable ones are learnt in the service of others.

It is a sunny, winter day, two winters ago and my destination is Stratford, Ontario. I take the back roads into town, beautiful, scenic, quiet roads, not as well cleared of snow as the highway is, yet still my preferred route as long as I have good snow tires and the visibility is good. I go slow and enjoy the ride.

I see them as I come over the hill, a young man and woman standing in the snow on the side of the road, looking forlornely at their little Honda. It is in the snowbank just before a little bridge, coming south as I head north. It appears that they have pulled over, thinking there is a shoulder under the snow. There isn't. The car has sunk and is stuck. Not a terrible accident by any means but a terrible inconvenience. I feel sorry for the couple and when I notice a beautiful round belly on the woman I know I have to stop. To be pregnant and stuck in the snow on a lonely country road has to be worrisome. I can imagine how that feels and also she looks like labour could be imminent.

The couple speaks very broken english but they let me know that their brother(his or hers, I couldn't tell for sure) is walking to a farmhouse up the road to call someone. I see him in the distance and say I will give him a ride to the farmhouse. I ask if they are ok and they indicate they will sit in the car and keep warm. They thank me and I drive on.

I pick him up and he is very grateful. He tells me his plan is to walk to the farmhouse and call someone to go get his truck to come in to pull them out. I ask him where his truck is and he tells me his address. I offer to drive him there to get the truck himself and he very happily accepts.

We ride along in silence for a few moments before the conversation starts but when he speaks it is to express his gratitude that I have stopped to pick him up. I ask him about his country of origin and he tells me that he is originally from Cambodia. I ask him how things are in that country now, being somewhat familiar with its past but not how things had healed following its struggles.

He is very open to talking and he expresses hope that his country would continue to heal but adds that there is still a great deal of strife. Then I ask him "How is Canada treating you?". He pauses, then expresses a great love for this country. He says he arrived in this country with virtually nothing and has been able to acquire land, buy rental real estate, start a business, buy a nice home for his family and has been able to bring some of his extended family here, including the brother and his wife that we have left back in the snow. They have only been here six months.

But then he expresses, almost regretfully, that there have been negatives as well. He has experienced racist acts in almost every neighbourhood he has lived in particularly in small towns. He tells me he has lived in Montreal and Toronto and his experiences in the larger cities had been more positive with no racial intolerance because people in large cities are used to people of different backgrounds and more accepting of it.

While he likes the idea of a smaller city he is finding that there is more open racism in these towns. He says he experienced it in its worse form when he bought a house in a nice neighbourhood where his was the only non-white family and they'd had graffiti painted on a fence with racial slurs, telling them to "go back" and there was some costly vandalism as well. His son has experienced name-calling and bullying at school which has caused him to act out and get in trouble. It has been difficult for a time although it has settled down lately and he is hopeful they will be able to stay but admits he has been close to giving up because it has become so difficult. He just hopes his neighbours are getting used to them by now.

To say I am shocked wouldn't be entirely true. I've heard rumblings of racism in my own little town. One of the distinct disadvantages I have found living in a rural area is the decided lack of diversity. Wanting your children to have, not simple tolerance for other cultures, but indeed a deep appreciation for differences is difficult to cultivate in a pure-white setting. I console myself with the fact that I grew up in a isolated, rural town and I somehow developed that appreciation and my hope is that my children develop it despite our location and lack of immediate immersion in diversity.

I apologise to the gentleman and struggle to say something to him that would let him know that not all Canadians feel this way. After a brief pause I say to him "I love Canada, it's a great country however it's just land and I've never been particularly concerned about the colour of the people who inhabit it".

His reply is "most people don't feel that way" and it saddens me to think that likely he is right.

Then he observes "but a lot of people are nice too" with a smile. I am glad to hear that and I tell him so.

So I pick up my daughter who is confused as to why I have this strange man in my car, I introduce them and we drive to his home for him to get his truck.

"Thank you" he says again and we part ways. My daughter is full of questions of course and shakes her head with a look that says "I never know what my wierd mother is going to do next".

There is so much meaning and importance to be found in this conversation, on this cold winter day. What I take from it is a direct and profound knowledge that my fellow humankind needs to let go of the idea of "race" and adopt the "human race" mindset. This man comes from a war-torn country to one of the most prosperous and peaceful places on earth. He builds a home and a business and has a family. He is as much Canadian as any of us and he has only enriched this country by his presense here. But even more so, he is a citizen of humanity, as equal and valid in every aspect as any other.

Why are people so caught up in the idea that others are trying to take things away from them and that they have nothing to offer. Every human has something to offer, you only have to open yourself up to that idea and look for it.

And land, is just land. None of it's ours. We can't own the earth. Archaology proves it time and again by discovering entire civilizations underneath the earth, buried, nations who at one point in time thought they owned the land they inhabited and now time and dirt have reduced them to what we will all become, without exception, particles of dust.

If we let go of this idea that we can own the earth. If, instead, we walk around with the idea that every human has something to give, something to contribute, something to better mankind then we will be able to, in turn have more ourselves to give back to mankind. If we promote the idea that the earth doesn't belong to us but that instead we belong to the earth maybe we will serve her better.

That winter day I gave him a ride, I hope somehow I gave him a better picture of humanity and I hope he continues to help shape this country, this world, into a positive and wonderful place to live.

He gave me insight into the life of a non-white person living in this country, a glimpse into the privilege I have and do not deserve as my only claim on it is having the "right" colour skin. He further cemented for me my life-long dedication to address social issues and call out injustice where I find it. I am forever grateful for all he gave me that day.

And every time I drive by that particular bridge I think if that little family, the man's brother and wife. The baby would be over a year old now, walking, likely the delight of his or her parents' lives. They will have been in Canada almost two years and I hope they've been embraced by the community and that this country has been kinder to them it was to their brother. I hope their child doesn't experience the troubles the cousin has had in school and I hope if he or she does they can know that there are people out there who are kind, welcoming and willng to share this land.

We are all only vistors to this earth. We are here only a brief time and during that time we have the opportunity, and even more importantly the responsibility to make it a better place. We can do so by treating all of the citizens of earth with respect, understanding and compassion. See each person as a divine soul and treat them accordingly. We are all a part of the same collective source.

Remember that and go gently into the world with a heart full of gentle kindness.
For who looks at a rainbow and says the red is better than the blue? Or that that one shade of it's arc is more important and valuable than another. See the rainbow that is humankind and celebrate it in all its colours and shades and know the world needs all the colours of the rainbow to make it whole. Your life will be richer and happier for it.

"No more sadness, no more sorrow, no more bad times
every day coming sunshine, everyday everybody laughing
walking together by the river, walking together and
laughing, everybody singing together, everybody singing and
laughing, good times good times, everybody walking by the
river now, walking singing talking smiling laughing loving
each other."

From "Share the Land" ~ The Guess Who

5 comments:

Audrey said...

A very important post Breeze. Racism is a world-wide problem. I have travelled to countries where my white skin was the minority, and I was not accepted because of it. Racism is born of fear - we need to eliminate fear, become more tolerant of differnces as you said...demonstrate daily human kindness. I like this post a lot!
- audrey

david mcmahon said...

What an enriching post. Thank you for the visit and the comment - and for giving me the chance to visit here for the first time.

Denise said...

Kindness costs us nothing but the rewards can be phenomenal, not only for our own peace of mind but for that of others. True riches are not material things but are found in the way we treat others. When we see people as people and not as someone who is 'different' because of the color of their skin, their religion or whatever, at the risk of sounding trite the world will be a lot better off. What an incredible act of kindness you did for this man and his family, and a great example for all of us. This is a wonderful post.

Pat said...

This is a lovely and thought-provoking post, well deserving of authorblog's Post of the Day award, from whence I arrived.

Edward Yablonsky said...

I would but say that the world could be but will never be as the idealists would say it should be. My mother escaped the holocaust of Poland, the Russian one in 1917 perpetrated by the Cossacks.I was ten ,52 years ago and she told me every detail of what she saw as a girl of 5 yeras old, coming to America starving with my grandmother. What would you say to the victims of a history as this one was? How could I believe that most men will be the better for it since most bystanders in the whole world from the Evian conference onward turned away their faces and turned their back on a tortured people. What would you say to me?
I know the stock answers and they are just words. I believe against reason that sonme day the Holiness of G-d's light will shine. Will it be forced on us ? Will we accept it freely?
www.edwardsliteracylog.blogspot.com