Points North

By James Fife

As we approach the holiday season, there is typically a lot of attention on gifts and gift-giving, what with so much visiting among folks, the gifting traditions of the holidays, and the insistent urging of the commercial crowd looking forward to high, year-end sales to remedy the bottom line. In their crassest version, the holiday advertisements sometimes play on emotions not quite fitting with the spirit of the holidays, suggesting (at times very blatantly) that a certain gift will make the recipient the envy of all who know him or her. It's a rather odd sort of holiday spirit that focuses on making others feel bad over how much better someone else's gift is.

Still, right about now, I am getting to know envy pretty intimately. That's because, through no action on my part, I've suddenly become the envy of a number of people I know and an even larger swath of people whom I don't.

It started out as a nervous joke, but now it has reached a state of reality with the election results of November 8, 2016. The mere idea of a Donald Trump presidency sent shivers down some people's spines, but now that it's here, we are all facing a big question mark about what will really happen. But one thing is already clear: a number of folks are looking North to the Future, and I have now become envied for my newly recognized dual nationality and my seeming foresight in securing a toehold in Canada well in advance.

Even as the election results were coming in, the news reports came out that the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website had crashed under the weight of a mass of sudden inquiries from would-be immigrants from the Land of the Brave. The recent, deliberate cyberterrorism that crashed Netflix and Amazon pales in comparison: here was a massive denial of service precipitated by the uncoordinated panic of thousands of individuals all simultaneously rushing for the closest fire door in the theatre. It is both breathtaking and sad in its scope.

I may feel tempted to posture as truly clairvoyant because of our decision to secure a home in Victoria and carry through with the notion I might have been born with dual citizenship. But I can't, in all honesty. It was fortuitous. Even the decision to buy came spontaneously and almost subconsciously; it was no more planned than my 'decision' to be born into a family with Canadian roots. It's genuinely a gift, something that just came to me, not from merit, but just by good fortune. So, I don't at all feel like lording it over my fellow (southern) countrymen because I possess a now valuable ability to pack up at any point and live my life among my (northern) countrymen--insulated somewhat from the potential for contention and division. I'm secretly comforted in my mind that I can, if things get too unbearable, pack up and head home to James Bay, get my part-time job at Tim Horton's, and ride it all out in blissful detachment. I may feel tempted in times to come, and I will be regularly asked by my envious friends why I don't do just that. Instead, I'll remain humble about that ability and not rub it in the faces of those who can't even get onto the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

I realize that we may well be in for years of bluster, bullying, and outright self-centered me-first-ism. These things make me cringe at the thought of how Making America Great Again will leave us less engaged and less admired among our world partners. Just as I was coming to appreciate the thawing of chilled relations between the US and Canada in recent years, I may see the thermostat ratcheted down again. It'll pain me in a more personal way than it did in the past, now that I have one foot in both Home North and Home South.

Like all the anxious internet surfers frantically seeking immigration information or a visa-providing dating match up, I can picture myself submerging into a life in Canada to conceal my shameful origins. But, I realize that might be the most American of reactions I could have: packing up and heading out is a long tradition from covered wagon days. Something makes me want to not do that, rather to stay my ground in the US and push back to make it better if I don't like things. It strikes me that standing firm and making the best of a bad situation is somehow an expression of those Canadian genes I inherited. And, I like to think, traits I have acquired as I learned more and understand the history, ways, and attitudes of Canada. I think about my link with my French Canadian grandparents and it naturally raises to mind Quebec's separatist tendencies. But Quebec has not left the Confederation, and I'd like to think it is because of the Canadian stick-to-it attitude, not to be pushed out, but stand fast and work hard to make it right.

Thinking in those terms, my unexpected gift of a certain, rubbed-off Canadianness fortifies me to face the coming challenges on both sides of the border with a lighter heart. It provides another opportunity to combine the best of both and use the strength of one tradition to improve the life of the other. It may not be a gift that inspires as much envy as the latest trendy car parked prominently in the driveway, but it's one that is deeply satisfying to me and far more in keeping with the holiday spirit we aspire to. And it doesn't even require a fancy bow.