I could say it started back in December, on the 17th to be precise, when I raced around the city of Toronto following the torch. By the time it arrived in Nathan Phillips Square, following an hour-long delay, I had already witnessed the magic twice. I’d even had my picture taken with a torch bearer, a gentleman who had competed at the Olympics in ’88. I didn’t need to hang around in the frigid night air, my toes numb to the point of pain, my brand new red mittens barely enough to sustain the feeling in my fingertips. But I wanted to be a part of that moment.
But it’s been going on far longer than that.
Kids are cruel. And I’ve been stubborn and proud since birth, if not before. When I was 9, my parents moved us south of the border. I found that it’s hard to fit in. New and different are sometimes difficult things to accept. And 9 year olds are merciless. I spent many years enduring taunts and jabs about being Canadian. I’ve long since recovered, but the point is that, instead of hiding who I was or where I came from, I clung to it. Loudly and proudly. Which in hindsight probably fueled some of the endless and ridiculous teasing, but I have never been one to stay silent. I was never quietly Canadian. I learned my patriotism in the USA, for better or worse.
And then I grew up. And I began to find, the more time I spent in my home and native land, that I was largely alone in this sentiment. Which isn’t to suggest that my fellow country-men/women were any less patriotic than I, they just expressed it differently. Their version was more, well, deferential, I guess. And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, but I think a larger display of national pride from time to time, a little flag waving if you will, would do our national psyche a lot of good.
Because the thing is, despite all our troubles, whatever injustice, war, prorogued parliament, civil liberties issue we are in the process of debating, discussing, changing, overcoming, this is still a pretty darn good country. We are privileged to call it home. And what these Olympics have given us is an opportunity to be a part of another kind of history. Perhaps it’s less substantial than the narrative written by wars and governments, but as we watch the first Olympian from Pakistan compete in these Games, somehow it seems no less important. For a nation constantly questioning who we are, it has given us new life. And, while we are far from perfection, I think our ultimate aim and the journey there are equally important. In the Opening Ceremonies of these Olympic Games, slam poet Shane Koyczan, reciting what he had written for that particular moment, said of Canada, “We are an idea in the process/of being realized.”
What moves me about these Olympic Games isn’t the medal count or the competition or even the incredible feats of athleticism. It isn’t how many golds or silvers or bronzes or points or wins or where we stand when all is said and done (which isn’t to say that I’m not cheering as loudly or hoping as strongly that our athletes go for the gold). What moves me is a nation coming together with pride, with spirit, with energy. It’s shedding sometimes crippling modesty in favour of public displays of flag waving and spontaneous Oh Canada singing. It’s rocking that big red maple leaf, whether in apparel or body paint. It’s holding our collective breath as we watch an unexpected hockey shoot out. It’s coming back from disappointment. It’s watching an underdog race to gold. It’s recognizing true sportsmanship and class and standing behind someone standing strong in the face of overwhelming adversity. It’s seeing the crowds of Canadians spilling into the streets in celebration, both in Vancouver and around the nation. It’s watching our soldiers in Kandahar cheering on their Olympic athletes, even in the midst of a war zone and their own much greater sacrifices. For me, it’s as simple as a smile shared between strangers sporting those cozy red mitts. It’s everywhere. And finally, you can see it.
This Olympic Games gave us a reason to show our pride. Hopefully the realization that we have a country worth being proud of doesn’t leave us as the games end today. Because there is nothing that sets my heart aglow more than my fellow Canadians coming together to celebrate.