Ottawa

Growing up the way I did, I never really felt attached to one particular place, I never felt grounded or secure. I grew up with the feeling that the rug was always about to be pulled from under me with every posting announcement. I have never gone back to the countries I have lived in abroad, I always felt for some reason, it would ruin them, it would taint the happy memories that I have held onto during the bad moments.

When I left Ottawa several years ago, I knew I would have to come back, I just didn’t know when. Ottawa always had this push-pull feeling, it was sort of home, or as close to me understanding what home was. I had history there, family that had lived there, and we always came back to the same neighbourhood. In all my in and outs from Ottawa, it never really changed. The people, the culture, even the bars and restaurants that divided federal department employees, political wonks from every different political party, it just never really changed.

Four years had passed. I was feeling positive, and was ready to reach out to old colleagues, see old friends, and reunite with a city that I always felt torn about. I was finally able to see Ottawa through the lens of a tourist, and holy smokes, it was really fun!

We made it to the hill for the changing of the guard. A ceremony I would see constantly when I worked on Parliament Hill, and kinda made fun of, because the tourists made it difficult to go from one building to another for a meeting. Standing there watching the changing of the guard, I was struck by a huge difference. It not only seemed like a smaller ceremony than I had remembered, but, there was a huge security presence. I shrugged it off. After the ceremony, we walked over to the main statue where the tomb of the unknown soldier lay. A statue that I spent my youth hanging out around on Canada Day, Remembrance Day… A statue, that I never really acknowledged as significant, it just seemed like a great hangout when I was 14-19. As I was showing my son, it struck me hard, the guards standing, keeping watch over, the security detail all the way around the downtown. As I turned slowly 360 degree to look around, my emotions got the better of me. Everything, and I mean everything, seemed to have changed. It was only a short time ago, that people had been shot at on the very platform I was standing on. An act of rage and hatred that I had never seen or heard of in the history of Ottawa. That innocence and freedom that I was handed every time I came back to Ottawa, no longer existed, it had been extinguished the moment that act took place.

My heart-felt a little heavy at that moment, because I remembered the colleagues and friends I quickly texted after I heard the news. They were all fine, just shaken. One friend, was just across the street, another was in an office on the Hill. The city, had become a capital city that day, one that in many ways, I finally understood, because it grew up. As the event unfolded, its resilience, its culture, finally moved, the small town acting like a big city that I loved to hate, had finally become a big city, an international city.

It felt off in every way, that I noticed that switch, and guilty that I connected the two events. And sad that the city no longer had a love hate place in my heart, it was all love, because, the international kid I was, and the International adult I had become, finally fit into a city I couldn’t while growing up.

It was the first time, I had a glimmer of what a homecoming felt like.

Dip Kid

 

 

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Survivor

I have been thinking about him a lot lately, his story, his words, everything about him, in fact, every once in a while, when I feel angry, I think of him.

You see, a long time ago, when I was in grade 10, we had to read Anne Frank, if you haven’t read it, you have probably been living under a rock. We were taking a trip to the Holocaust exhibit at the museum downtown, it was something I was absolutely terrified to see. I had studied WW2, my grandfather fought in the war, was shot down, and joined the French resistance. I had never met him, but he was in odd history books here and there. What was disturbing for me, was the loss of humanity. I could not, and still cannot understand, how hate can grow to the point of violence, and in the case of WW2, the mass murder.

We entered the museum, and we were led to the various photos. It was a stark reminder, that no one, and I mean no one ever wanted this to happen again. That kind of hate had no business being part of society, that we needed to read, learn and understand our past, to make sure we avoided this.

We were then led into a room. Chairs in rows, an aisle in the middle, facing one way. We were told to sit. My class filed in, and we sat. More people came, and sat in the back. We were introduced to a small, balding man, with a short sleeve dress shirt, grey flannel pants, and carefully polished black shoes.

He stood in the front, and began to tell his story. He pointed to a series of numbers on his arm…

He was 10 years old when he and his family were rounded up, with yellow stars on their coats, with nothing but what they could carry, and stuffed into a train. He described children crying, parents holding onto each other and their children, standing, unable to move. The smell of urine and feses. There was bucket in the corner, overflowing. If you had to go, you had to do so in front of everyone in the car.

At 10, he held onto his Mother’s hand, having already seen his Father die in front of him, and watched the light go out of his Mother’s eyes. They were off to their deaths. He described being separated from his Mother, hearing screams in another room, full well knowing that soldiers were having their way with women, before shaving their heads, and tattooing their arms.

He held onto his brother’s hand, but eventually, they were separated too. Scared and alone, he made a promise, that everyday, he would try to survive.

Since he was 10, he became an errand boy for the some of the soldiers, a job that came with not stop physical abuse, including being locked in a cage with a couple of German Sheppard’s to fight, for the soldiers entertainment.

The more the gentleman spoke, the more one young man in the back heckled. The older gentleman stopped his story, and asked the young man to stand up. He did. He had a shaved head, tight jeans, a leather jacket with a visible and bold swastika emblazoned on the arm of his jacket. He was a skin head. At that time, there was a small group of teens in Ottawa, who identified themselves as that.

The older man, instead of getting angry, began to give him a history lesson about the swastikas, Hitler and WW2. The young skin head, walked out of the room. No one knew what happened to the skin head. We turned back to the survivor telling his story, and he simply told us
“I survived, I don’t know how. I lost my whole family, but vowed to have my own, and to tell my story so no one forgets history.”

The story, that man, stuck with me. He is still in my head. With so much information available at our fingertips, I can’t understand, how hate can spread again.