So we’ve been in Canada three days, and not one person here has looked askance at us Americans. As soon as we drove off the ferry in Victoria and waited for a very short time, a smiling Canadian customs agent welcomed us warmly and, when I asked if he’d stamp our passports (they typically don’t), he said, “If you ask nicely, I will,” and before I could say a word, he had his stamp out inking our U.S. documents.
Oh, Canada. You’re looking as good and kind as ever at 150. Happy Sesquicentennial!
I keep expecting people here to raise an eyebrow about That Man In Charge Down Below. I was half hoping someone might offer a bit of sympathy or maybe asylum. I am a big fan of Mr. Trudeau and most things Canadian, but these folks are so polite (it’s only a stereotype because it’s true) that they wouldn’t openly dis That Man. Not that they’re necessarily fans either, but you’re not going to hear disparaging things about him the way you do in the U.S. where 55 percent of us disapprove of his job performance.
I am one of that 55 percent, for the record. I am appalled by most things That Man says and does but perhaps most of all for his attacks on what he calls “fake news.” As a longtime journalist and journalism professor, I’m stunned that a president would call U.S. news media “fake” and more stunned to learn that so many people believe him. He’s entitled to his opinions, of course. I’m the journalism teacher who constantly exhorts students to read and listen to information from a variety of sources—especially ones they disagree with—and then make considered opinions, not to just parrot what they hear others say around them.
American media are not perfect, but in my experience most journalists, regardless of their political views, work hard to be responsible and fair about reporting all sides of issues. To call The New York Times or the Washington Post “the enemy of the American people” is ridiculous. And to have a president repeatedly use, quite frankly, hate speech against pretty much all media with which he disagrees or those who refuse to spin stories to his liking, is damaging and childish. The role of the press—the fourth estate—is to serve as the watchdog of those in power, not to fawn over them like fans at a rock concert. A free press lets the public participate in making decisions based on the free flow of information and ideas. Without it, citizens would be unable to make informed decisions.
And that doesn’t begin to cover the issues of deporting non-citizens (some of whom are my students who have lived most of their lives in California), or building a wall to keep those non-citizens out, or the seeming lack of compassion for the environment, the poor/homeless or anyone who is Not Like You.
But don’t get me started. I can swing into lecture mode in my sleep.
I’m on vacation, trying to step away from the onslaught of political coverage, which has consumed Americans pretty much nonstop since last fall. Canadians, who may be some of the best informed people in the world, are also regularly exposed to all the brouhaha of U.S. politics—they always have been—and know more about us than we do about them. They are not shy about their opinions concerning their provinces or country either. But here on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, on a finger of peninsula called Tofino, there is no mention of any of this. Is it possible that we have come to a politics-free zone?
I believe we have. Also, it’s 9:45 p.m., and it’s not yet completely dark. The sun will rise by 5:30 a.m. We can see people on the beach from our balcony still in the water. Some of them in wetsuits (it’s not Hawaii ocean, after all). We had dinner tonight in a lightly peopled dining room where we heard our fellow humans speaking Russian, French and English. One server sounded Australian. We are staying at a hotel owned by the local First Nations tribe. In town today I heard a shopkeeper speaking Spanish and a customer trying English, though she said Canadians speak English differently than she hears it in her native Poland.
This is a tiny village seemingly at the end of the earth, and no one is using terms like Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, Believers or Nonbelievers, Christian or Jew or Muslim, Straight or Gay, Citizen or Noncitizen, or any reference to the different colors of humans. They’re all just people of the planet who have come to live or temporarily admire this corner of it, this place where forest meets the sea, and whales and bears and all manner of animal, bird, fish and insect somehow manage to peacefully coexist. It is a place not without conflict, but there is a generous spirit here.
I am trying to absorb a lesson from this, one that I need to learn again and again. I sat on the beach today under a far less intense sun than what my hometown is experiencing this month (trying to send cool breezes your way, Sacramento!) and meditated, listening to gulls and crows yelping and cawing, to kids frolicking, to baby waves turning over gently on the beach. In this lovely place I am trying to readjust my attitudes and opinions, which really (to quote a guy named Rick in a place called Casablanca) don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. No one cares what I think; it doesn’t matter anyway. My goal—I keep reminding myself—is to try to do everything with great love. And with a lot less judgment. Of everyone, including those with whom I disagree or find disagreeable. This is the great challenge.
I’m with the Dalai Lama, who said:
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.
I have friends and relatives who believe very differently than I do, some who vote and attend church regularly, and some who do not. Some who consider themselves Conservative, others Liberal, others with no such designation. We don’t talk about these differences; when we’re together, through unspoken agreement, we find common ground and stick to that… with great kindness. I appreciate that. I try to return it.
And here, in this place where the ocean gently covers the sand and then retreats each day, where the trees watch all of us earthly creatures walk and move and fly and slither, I find my love well filling up again. My monkey mind settles down for a nap. Sitting, eyes closed, I do lovingkindness practice, sending peace and joy and compassion out to everyone—first to myself and to those I love, but especially to those with whom I struggle, with those I find difficult. Because, as the Buddhists remind us, everyone wants to be happy, to feel loved, to feel safe.
May you be safe. May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find joy. May you be well. May you be at ease. May you be happy.
You and you and you and you. Oh, yes, and you, too.