The day after the US election I had a terrible hangover and I hadn’t even been drinking. I had waited and waited for something, anything, to happen for a different outcome, but in the end all I got was a night with too little sleep.
So it was with a fuzzy head and a bad temper that I got up and dressed in time to go to see my step-grandson sing at his school’s Remembrance Day assembly. I arrived with my son early enough that, to get to the front doors, we had to walk through the schoolyard full of loud and energetic five- to eleven-year-olds chasing each other and letting off lots of noisy steam.
We signed in at the office, then sat at the back of the school gym and watched as the teachers set up the microphones and video projector, and as the choir practiced standing up and sitting down on cue. Then, the children started to file in and sit in rows on the floor. All those loud and wildly active youngsters were now quiet and orderly. Well, most of them were, most of the time. They are kids, after all. But watching the students and staff sort themselves out and settle in to pay respects to our military—that’s when my gloom started to lift. What is normally a very sombre occasion was, for me, a sign of optimism for all our futures.
This particular school is in a multicultural neighbourhood in Edmonton, and as I looked around I guessed there were probably twenty different ethnicities and countries-of-origin represented there. Possibly more. I really don’t know, but collectively we actually looked like that cultural mosaic we sometimes talk about.
Some of those children are immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries, and for them I imagine that a Remembrance Day brings up some difficult memories. I wondered how they would feel about the video showing images of World War I, or if it would mean anything to them at all.
Some have migrated to Edmonton from northern native communities, and their battles have been quite different from ones we were reflecting on. They may have lived in villages and housing just as devoid of essential services as their classmates who have come from embattled Somalia or the middle east.
Some have families in eastern Canada, and their parents came here looking for work in the oil and gas industries. The work has disappeared as the price of oil has gone down, so they are now without either the promised incomes or the emotional support of extended families.
As we drove home, my son reminded me that many of these children come from homes that are troubled by alcohol and drug addictions, and family violence is familiar territory for a few of them. Some might even be homeless and living in the homes of friends or at shelter accommodations.
All the more significant, then, that all these children manage to overcome language, cultural, and religious differences to get along as well as they do. I’m sure it isn’t easy for their teachers (who all deserve medals) but yesterday they helped those kids organize themselves, sit fairly quietly with minimal disruptions, and even to keep two minutes of silence.
The freedoms that the military have fought for are being enjoyed here by children from all over the world. They may still have a lot to learn about Canada and its customs, but by going to school together they are finding out that we all have more in common than that which divides us.
These refugees and immigrants don’t threaten our community, but instead they bring us a welcome diversity and a positive impact on the economy. We don’t always understand each other, and we don’t always know what someone else has been through, but we can always sit together and be thankful for what we have, even if some of us are a bit wriggly.