A patriotic awakening

These past Olympics, something happened to my sense of identity. Pundits are touting this as a great awakening of patriotic pride for Canadians. Hate to prove a cliche right, but I couldn’t agree more.

Initially, I was afraid to cheer because companies seem to have overrun the Games themselves — tacking their name to every event and every legendary moment. I had hoped we could pull a Beijing 2008 summer games which, despite being as well sponsored as any other Olympic games, we now remember as China’s coming out party.

But the opening ceremony’s glitches, the record-breaking high temperatures, a fatal accident and the slow start to our medal haul had me, like most people, feeling a bit let down. It didn’t help that the Canadian Olympic Committee practically threw in the towel for their bold proclamations of Owning the Podium only halfway through.

I asked at the time, what were these games about then? To showcase how unfit for winter sports was the west coast and its facilities? Were the opening ceremonies a presentation of how we can dream big and grandiose, only to blow it on the implementation? That we can make bold statements of dominating the field, only to say, “oops sorry, we couldn’t pull it off?”

Still, I couldn’t turn away. I thought that whatever the outcome, however these 2010 games may be viewed by history once all this was over, this was a momentous occasion. In order to cope, I packed up what was left of my over-enthusiastic support and wore instead a slight air of reserve.

Slowly, the medal count rose, mostly golden. In the end we may not have owned the podium but we owned the gold, capped by a hockey win that will be talked about for generations to come.

Now, there is probably nothing I can say about that which hasn’t been said already. The overwhelming patriotism, the creative expressions of national pride and the unity of the masses; it was all quite euphoric. Never in my life could I imagine anything else that could unite Canadians so strongly and publicly, and I’m glad to have witnessed it in my lifetime.

That last one is very important to me.

You see, like most young Canadians, it is entirely possible for me to take everything for granted. My generation did not win a war nor did we grow up during a time of great social upheaval. Though an immigrant to this nation, I did not settle the west nor did I have to engage in any tangible pioneering effort. I am not discounting our future social contributions — for we are shaping up to be the generation that seeks to tackle the last of the major social justice issues left — but I certainly pine for us to have at least a universally shared experience and a stronger sense of identity that could be embraced.

Then again, what is there to embrace? Canada for me has so far been a nebulous notion, for the most part exemplified by “not being like our neighbour.” That or having been from far and wide. While it’s great that I can maintain the culture whence I came from, I honestly would have done that anyway on my own. What I am looking for is to be able to wear and hold in my hands what it means to be Canadian; to be able to join a mass of people teeming with nationalistic fervour.

But the great Canadian tendency to self reflexively critique oneself — perhaps even laughing about ones own quirks along the way — compounds the problem somewhat. For without the illusion of an infallible ideal, to what idea should I wholeheartedly submit myself?

Yet, as we started hauling gold after gold, and as I saw through the closing ceremonies the humorous side of the Canadian way of being able to critique oneself, I realized a few things. We laugh at ourselves because we are aware of our humanity. We are not infallible and we can in fact turn around and own that fallibility without having to make excuses.

More importantly, our love for this country isn’t based on a vague ideal or any illusions, but rather on the reality of social justice and our tangible values — just as gold is as real as it gets. There is not a clear Canadian dream because we are very much awake and still forging our way and creating a great history. Along the way, there will be obstacles, setbacks, even disagreements, but we have shown that we can overcome, and later on look back and laugh about it.

Finally, while we haven’t been prone to overt public displays of patriotism based on a shared triumph, it is simply because in this era of relative peace and prosperity, far fewer opportunities now present themselves. Yet when one such opportunity does come, oh man, we sure can sing O Canada with pride.

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