Canada Dreamin’

I often worry that this blog is going to turn into a one-trick pony, a run-of-the-mill anti-Trump diatribe. This fear probably keeps me from working on it as much as I’d like; it’s so easy to get bogged down in the objectionable material that the current president and his staff provide on a daily basis. And that material isn’t the focus of the content I want to provide here.

So let me recount a recent incident that made me re-focus and re-think my role in this digital forum that I’m creating.

I was raised in an all-white, lower-middle-class suburb located about three miles outside of Detroit. To this day, that background – including the religious upbringing (Roman Catholic) I absorbed – colours my thinking. I both react to and reflect that time, that place, and those values.

Though I carry that place around in my head, I rarely go there; most of my family has died or dispersed to other parts of the state, and I rarely see those who still live in metro Detroit.

My mother lives in rural Michigan, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Motown, and that is where I spend most of my US-based time now. During last fall’s election there were no Hillary Clinton signs here at all (actually there weren’t that many Trump signs either, but the only political signs I saw were for Trump). People love their bibles and guns here, and I’d never start a discussion focused on politics with anyone I might casually meet.

A few days ago, I was shopping at one of the little towns that dot the landscape, one of those places whose wide, Midwestern streets suddenly emerge from the winter-sleeping corn and wheat and bean fields.

The sales clerk, a pleasant young woman who looked to be in her mid-30s or so, noticed my Canadian credit card. “Oh, you live in Canada … what’s that like? My husband and I have always wanted to move there … we’ve been talking about it for 25 years!” (I guess she wasn’t quite as young as I thought.)

We had a brief but rather intense conversation. I was amazed that someone in this very conservative part of the US was open to the idea of emigrating. “Oh, it’s not so much political,” she explained. “We believe that both parties don’t think much about the people here. But I think that in Canada, it’s different. It’s much more human. There’s so much more land and I think the people care for each other more. It’s not just the government that’s different; it’s the place itself.”

She’s right, I thought later. The Canadian landscape exists on a giant scale, most of it cold and forbidding; yet the society planted on it – for whatever historic or geographic or cultural reasons – is generally more humane.

The only point in our conversation that verged on politics was when she mentioned guns. “I don’t believe people need assault weapons,” she said. She thought that hunters had a legitimate reason to own firearms, and I noted that this is true in Canada as well. It’s handguns and military-style weapons that are restricted, and she approved.

Otherwise, our conversation was devoid of politics. The word “Trump” was never spoken.

This woman said that family concerns keep her and her husband in the US; they don’t want to remove their children from close contact with grandparents and other relatives. Perhaps when the children are older they will try to leave, she said.

I told her about my experience. I moved from Michigan to Canada in my mid-20s. I was single and childless then; I didn’t think much about how my parents would be affected – how they might need or miss me when they were old. But despite difficulties in later years, juggling family responsibilities between countries, I’ve never regretted the decision.

I wonder if she and her husband will fulfill their Canadian dream. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will probably become, so it’s hard to say. But I’m glad I spoke to and encouraged her while focusing once more, myself, on the bigger picture.

It wasn’t specific laws or political structures or even my opposition to the Vietnam War that brought me to Canada 45 years ago. It obviously wasn’t Donald Trump, a young playboy-about-town whom I’d never heard of, avoiding the draft back in 1972; nor was it Richard Nixon (POTUS at the time).

The attractions that motivated me were, and still are, Canada’s imposing geography and emptiness; breathtaking scenery, literally, at my doorstep; and the “kinder, gentler” atmosphere in the pockets of the country where people actually live.

I gave the friendly young woman my contact information in case I could ever answer questions about immigrating to Canada or assist her in any way. “Don’t give up your dreams,” I said to her as I left the shop.