Nous Sommes Canadiens

In the past three days, I have had a bit of a refresher course on what it means to be Canadian.

Last night my parents, the bevy, Franck and I watched live as the amazing Alex Bilodeau won the Gold in men’s moguls.

It was a glorious moment. His disabled brother – who Alex cited time and time again for being his most profound and enduring inspiration – was front row centre, cheering him on with the rest of the country. None of us cared whether he was anglophone or francophone, but only that he was, like all of us at that exact moment, a Canuck.

Our national identity is not necessarily something us Canadians spend our spare time pondering, but in the past three days of watching the Olympics play out in my beloved Pacific Northwest I feel that something patriotic has gelled not only inside of myself, but in the crowds thronging Robson Street and across the huge swath of land that is Canada.

I have to say I had a rather cynical start on this Olympic odyssey.

Franck and I watched the Opening Ceremonies together on our Valentine’s getaway up at Shawnigan Lake, and we couldn’t help but wince and groan when we saw the startled looks of consternation that the members of the VIP box were exchanging due to the AWOL First Nations chiefs.

That was just so Canada not to be able to get something like that right, I thought.

But then the camera shifted from the puddin‘ boy face of our pained PM to the golden awesomeness that is Michaelle Jean. It then panned over to the First Nations chiefs who had slipped into their seats (I wondered if they were delayed by the complicated business of one of the chiefs attaching what appeared to be live crows to either side of his head) and sat there with expressions that seemed to say, “In fact, we have been here all along. You were just not looking properly.”

In any case, their riveting presence certainly provided a refreshing change of pace from the sober-suited politicians and IOC members. And that’s when it hit me. This is Canada, not the States. It’s perfectly okay, expected even, not to get everything right. That’s what makes us quirky, and interesting, and humane.

Then came that amazing light show with the breaching orcas and the towering cedars, and KD Lang’s spine tingling version of Hallelujah in bare feet, and our very own slam poet with the communist era beard, and last but not least, the erectile dysfunction of the cauldron.

Seeing the sweat purling down The Great One’s cheek, and Catriona La May Doan’s tight lipped yet determined smile made me realize that in fact this ceremony was profoundly, 100% Canadian.

Things didn’t have to be Hollywood – perfect to be beautiful or amazing. In fact, the screw-ups made the whole thing WAY more interesting.

As Rick Hansen said later on in an interview, many things in life aren’t perfect (including – what he didn’t need to say – being in a wheelchair) but that isn’t what really matters. What really matters, he said, is how a person reacts to such imperfections. Do they react with courage? Do they react with humanity? Do they react with humour? Do they react with grace?

And the past three days have shown to the world that we do to the best of our ability. From VanOc’s recognition of a tragedy that everybody grieved for in the Opening Ceremony to Jennifer Heil’s central worry about letting down her fellow Canadians after being edged out for the Gold to Alexandre Bilodeau’s fist pumping gold medal victory last night, we have seen who we are and even more importantly, who we want to be, reflected back at us.

We’re far from perfect, and we don’t give a hoot if the rest of the world knows it. After all, it’s our flaws and flub-ups that allow us to mine that best part of ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Nous Sommes Canadiens

  1. Michelle B

    Superb writing, kudos!

    I am not nationalistic at all, but this got me going. Yes, group identity has its pluses.

    America? What can I say? Born, raised, and educated there and carry an American passport, but most happy to live elsewhere. It is a demanding and exacting culture, often frenzied, good for a visit perhaps for a chunk of a few years especially when young (even that, I wonder if it is worth doing nowadays!)

    I never knew this aspect until I lived in other countries. So many nice countries to live in–America has some real competition now.

  2. Rhonda

    I've been thinking of you while I watch the Olympics. I loved the whales in the opening ceremony!

    Even though I'm an American I had to order a pair of the red mittens. Canada is cool.

    One thing I've noticed in our US tv production…is that they are showing more of the foreign athletes winning and some of the sports we don't have any good athletes in. It makes for much more of a world experience and that's what I love about the Olympics.

  3. Laura Bradbury

    Dear All,

    I know the Vancouver 2010 Olympics have been getting trashed in the foreign media, but us Canucks (and I think a lot of visitors) are riding a tide of positive vibes and are having a blast.

    The one thing, though, that I am NOT happy with is that the Canadian coverage on CTV is not showing us enough information and stories about non-Canadian athletes. I think that's closeminded, and doesn't reflect the interests of the viewers.

    Bises to all, and Joyeux Olympics!


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