Sunday, November 22, 2015

Giving Thanks, Giving Back

As I watch the groundswell of knee-jerk xenophobia following the Paris terrorist attacks, I am compelled to invoke the voice of reason. Thoreau said “It’s never too late to give up your prejudices”. The upcoming American Thanksgiving offers a perfect segue from offering thanks to giving up our prejudices.

My Thanks go back many years, first to my parents, who raised me both color-blind and agnostic, leaving me open to the available wisdom of whomever I might encounter in life’s journey. Theirs was probably the greatest gift I have ever received, and so Mom, and Dad, my most heartfelt “Thank You”.

But there are many others to whom I owe a debt of thanks…

Thanks to the Christian family who billeted me on a band trip to Abbotsford in 1965. I never properly thanked you for the lovely hardcover nonfiction book which you asked that I return someday. I never did, but that copy still graces my personal library shelves, and I think of you every time I take it down to reflect on the generosity of strangers.

Thanks too to my oldest friend, a born-again Christian who I met on my first day of college, and who, many years later told me, “Children aren’t the most important thing in life. They’re the ONLY thing…” I sometimes wish I had seen the wisdom in that a decade or two before I did, but as Thoreau said…

 Thanks to the Jewish family who sponsored me when I won an Air Cadet trip to Israel in 1967. Your hospitality was complete and unconditional, even though I was an uncouth gentile teenager who took your generosity for granted, and never properly thanked you at the time.

Thanks to the gregarious Inuit guides who showed me the ropes on northern Baffin Island in 1970. I suspect your religion was some form of animism, but you gave me the benefit of your rich experience, and gifted me a pair of sealskin mukluks which hang beside my desk to this day to remind me of the importance of human contact and support.

Thanks to the Hindu workers in the Quesnel plywood plant in 1975 who took pity on me when I was a green “fishtail” handler, and ensured I made quota each long and lonely shift on the assembly line. You kept me on time and on task when I was ready to throw in the towel.

Thanks to the many wonderful Mennonite colleagues who helped me transition from struggling classroom teacher to seasoned teacher-librarian in Abbotsford from 1978 to 1985. Your support and encouragement kept me in the game, helped me find my niche in education, and set me on the path to 26 wonderful years as an International school educator.

Thanks to the warm and generous elderly Sunni Muslim shopkeepers in the old Souqs of Tripoli who shared with me their sorrow at the travails of their country under Qaddafi.  When I found myself one of the few Caucasians in Libya after the American bombing in 1986, you ensured that I remained a welcome guest of the Jamahirya. When I think of Libya now, I think of you.

Thank you to the gentle Jain, the international school support worker whose kind nature helped me to aspire to non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness. I have mastered none of these, but I am a better person for having known you and learned even a tiny bit about your religion.

Thanks to the Shia Muslim tour guide who welcomed me to Cairo in 2000 and provided my 35 privileged international school teens with the most wonderful, open and unbiased introduction to Egyptian history, culture and customs that I could have hoped for. Because of you, my friend, I have vowed to someday bring my own children to see your wonderful country.

Thanks to the legions of warm, welcoming and caring Buddhists who bestowed “honored guest” status on me in Thailand in 1985. I learned that any small act of generosity or kindness was repaid a hundredfold over my 25 glorious years there. I returned to Canada in 2011 a calmer, gentler and, I hope, a wiser husband, father and son. Thank you Thailand, and the Buddhist people, for giving me a soulmate, a family and a whole new perspective on life.

Finally, Thanks to the Canadian First Nations community who in 2012 accepted me on equal terms as a non-native Tour Bus Driver and Guide. Your faith in my ability kept me on the path of continual learning and personal growth and your ability to still contribute to an evolving Canadian identity inspires me to see a richer future for Canada than I ever imagined.

My story is the story of Canada. As a once again proud Canadian living in a truly multicultural society led by a Prime Minister whom I can admire, respect, and perhaps in small ways emulate, I welcome refugees of any faith, color or creed to our unique nation. We are ALL guests in this land, and every new Canadian we admit further enriches and diversifies our Canadian cultural mosaic.

Thank you, refugees from the far-flung corners of the world for choosing Canada. Thank you, Canadian voters, for choosing wisely in our recent election. Thank you, the new Government of Canada, for standing up to ignorance and xenophobia and putting Canada back on the path to becoming a world leader in caring, compassion and altruism toward our fellow human beings.

Rob Rubis