Can You Love Two Imperfect Countries?

I was once told by a man, in earnest, that it was completely possible to deeply and truly love two women at the same time. A bit of an oxymoron himself, this man was an emotionally expressive German who lived in the French Riviera. He said he’d managed to fall in love with two women and, it so happened, both were from Reunion Island. 

Where and what is Reunion Island you say? It’s a French island, population less than 1 million, off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. 

Now the odds of finding two Reunion Island women roughly the same age who lived in the south of France were fairly impressive. And to love them both equally, absolutely equally, even though one was your wife and one was someone else’s wife, well, just imagine that.

But who am I to judge? I love two countries equally: Canada and The United States of America. 

I was born in Canada to very poor teenagers. For the first 5 years of my life, we lived in a basement apartment. My mother was Estonian, a refugee from Stalin’s Mad Marxist Dream, and my father is of Scottish origin. As I’ve often highlighted at inappropriate times, my father comes from a long line of criminals and alcoholics. In other words, he comes from the “wrong side of the tracks”. But my father, the man himself, is an accountant and an honest, sober one at that. 

When I was 10 years old, my father’s company moved their accountant and his family to The United States of America. 

I immediately fell in love. 

Soon after arriving in Miss Ewing’s 5th grade class in Wallingford, a suburb of Philadelphia, I won a poster-sized copy of The Declaration of Independence. I think Miss Ewing had somehow arranged that her new Canadian student would be holding the winning ticket for this bit of American history. Oblivious to all of that, I came home, taped The Declaration of Independence to the back of my bedroom door, and read it every night before I went to bed. For years.

Who could not fall in love with the Declaration of Independence and the country that tries to live its ideals? 

Without shame, I will admit that to this day, so very many decades later, I can’t help but tear up when I read that great document. I think back to hundreds of years ago — long before penicillin and sophisticated indoor plumbing and before any black man (and certainly before absolutely any woman no matter her skin tone) could vote—that a handful of men had made such a profound claim: that it was a human being’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. This statement gave an opening for black men and all women to fight to make that claim finally come true for them. 

These Founding Fathers in their stiff-collared fancy attire in homes heated by firewood also claimed that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. 

So, yes, I fell in love with America. The whole world is secretly in love with America, whether they will admit to it or not. After all, why would so many millions scramble to reach your shores, by hook or by crook?

For a dozen years I lived in the United States and then, for reasons I will explain another time, returned to Canada when I was 22. 

Here in Canada, the people of “The Great White North”–and “white” here refers to the snow that blankets this big country every winter, nothing more–are very similar to Americans, yet we are also very different. A striking difference is that Americans know very little about your neighbours to the north and yet we Canadians know quite a lot about America, and for good reason. 

You have been the great light of hope through the 20th century. While not a perfect place, for what country is perfect, you have shown many countries around the world the way to a more just and fair way of life. In fact, after World War II, Americans quietly pushed for universal suffrage in two European countries that had withheld the vote from women. With all of Europe’s posturing on its justice angles, the French and Italians neglect to mention that they had refused women full rights of citizenship until America got involved.

I’ve heard people say that they view Canadians as “halfway between an American and a European” in that we have the industrious spirit from centuries of immigration and yet we also support free medicare for all, no questions asked. We are certainly more forthright than most Europeans and yet far less likely to boldly put forward our opinions the way Americans do. You can plainly see this dual spirit in how we measure distance and weigh ourselves: we travel in kilometers, not miles, and we weigh ourselves in pounds.

As Canadians, we have rested on American strength, though very few of my very liberal friends would ever acknowledge this. Through the latter half of the last century, America was busy protecting the world from the horrors of Communism. My family and I thank you for this.

Even though Canada shares a border with Russia, we have never had to worry much about a Russian invasion the way my grandparents in Estonia had worried about (and experienced) that terror. We Canadians know America has our back. True, you may not actually know very much about us, but you’ll always protect us the way a brother always looks after his little brother. 

Too many Canadians take that for granted.

As American taxpayers were investing in the military to hold back the Communist tide, we Canadians invested in things like medicare for all and had the luxury of spending too much time squabbling over what it meant to “be Canadian”. In the early 1980s, we established our own Constitution, drawing on your magnificent American ideals.

Back then, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau would never have formally acknowledged this fact, yet our Constitution and Charter of Rights echo many of the ideals and rights established by your Founding Fathers hundreds of years earlier. Sadly, it is not apparent to me that our current Prime Minister, who happens to be Pierre Trudeau’s son, has ever read either the Constitution or our Charter of Rights but, again, this discussion is for another day.

There are many things I would like to share with Americans about the other country that I love, Canada. In the next update, I’d like to explain why I felt compelled to leave America to return to the place of my birth (spoiler alert: free medicare for all) and introduce you to our political system and how we vote. I think you will find it interesting to see the real drawbacks of a multi-party system. From that foundation, there will be lots more to discuss, both in our shared history and in current events.

Anyone who has ever enjoyed a deep relationship understands that there is no such thing as a perfect person. It’s the same for countries, too. Neither of my great loves is perfect, but I very much love them both.

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