Confessions of a Canadian: 10.09.13

I don’t know who Columbus is.

I know that we get two days off of school because of him. I’ve heard that he “discovered” America, but then I’ve also heard that he took the land from Native Americans, who he then killed, so as you can see, these two stories are not totally congruent.

I don’t know who Columbus is.

And I’ve really never thought to ask. (You can only judge my apparent ignorance, however, if you’re able to tell me who discovered Canada. And when. And in what province. And on that note, do you know what a province is?)

Freshman year, in my West and the World history class, my professor told this story of a time when she was visiting China and she mentioned Columbus and all the children responded with, “Who’s that?” And I think my class found this to be the most baffling thing. Who doesn’t know who Columbus is? I mean, he (maybe?) discovered America! Who could be so oblivious?

Naturally, I stayed silent, not about to raise my freshman hand and admit I was just as oblivious as the Chinese children. 

No matter what your story is, Columbus, I appreciate you. I appreciate that there’s a holiday dedicated in your honor, and because of that, I get to go home for the first time in the semester, and I get to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving (which, until my big American move four years ago, was actually just called Thanksgiving).

People will get excited about this fact. Canadian Thanksgiving? Is that a real thing? And it is; I promise it is, and I won’t judge you for not knowing, as long as you don’t judge me for asking about Columbus. 

I don’t know much about geography. And it’s not because I think it’s cute or endearing to ask a stranger on the side of the road for directions. It’s because when I see a map I suddenly get so overwhelmed, all I can think is that the world is so big and I am just this tiny, tiny person. 

When the guidance counselor suggested I take geography in high school because it’d be “easy points,” she was wrong. Those were the hardest (and lowest) points I had ever suffered for. 

I want to understand the world. I want to travel the world, in that aching—verging on desperate—way that overwhelms so many 20-something post grads. Mostly though, I just want to meet the people. All 7 billion people (well, maybe that’s a stretch), all so I can feel a little less overwhelmed when I look at a map. All so I can understand what it means to be one person of seven billion. Because we’re not striving for one in a million anymore, we’re striving for one in seven billion.

We’re all so scared of just becoming a number. A number to the government. A number to our professor. A number to the bank. A lost social security number. 

We’re scared of disappearing into this abyss of numbers. 

We fear numbers, but we strive for them—letting them define us. We don’t want to be a number, but we want to let a number speak for us. We want to be number one in the class. We want to have a low number on the scale. We want to have a high number on our first pay check and a low one our mortgage payments. We want to go to infinity and beyond. And then we want our hummus to come in 100 calorie packs.

At this moment there are 7,183,382,494 people in this world. By the time you’re reading this, you’ll probably be able to add another million.

7,183,382,494 (plus a million). 

And every 10 seconds, one dies from hunger. 

And every 4 seconds, someone is diagnosed with dementia. 

And every 3 seconds, another dies from extreme poverty. 

And every 1 second, three babies are born.  

I don’t know who Columbus is. But I know he was important enough to warrant us giving him his own holiday. His own the-second-Tuesday-of-October date.

But to me, that day is still just the one that follows Canadian Thanksgiving. My Thanksgiving. Because that’s what it is, even though I’ve since moved to the US and discovered there’s another Thanksgiving and it’s celebrated with midnight shopping as we help the numbers go from red to black, and the Macy’s day parade on 34th street.

But for me, none of that existed until three years ago, when I traveled the seas (metaphorically speaking, course) and I, too, discovered this land here.  

And I’m not asking for any holidays to be thrown in my honor; in fact, I’m asking for the opposite. I’m asking that we all unanimously agree to ignore my next birthday (because I’m fearful that Taylor Swift has talked 22 up a little too much and it’ll be filled with post-grad disappointment). And I’m asking that we don’t let me, or any of us, become another number. 

On (Canadian) Thanksgiving, I’m resolving to give thanks. (An inventive idea, I know.) And I’m suggesting we give thanks not for the numbers, but instead for each other. 

For the 7,183,382,494 other people in this world. 

(And for the two countries in which I live that manage to co-exist as one continent, despite their differing Thanksgiving dates.)

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