“I can only imagine how you feel.”

No, you can’t. But thanks anyway.

There is no predicting or preparing for sudden events that change everything, things that don’t happen to you, only others. The duration may be short, long-lasting, even permanent. I have described how the deaths of my son and daughter altered the way I perceived light and color; how food lost its taste and water from the shower hurt my skin.

Ten years ago I was in a spectacular crash that demolished both cars and caused serious injuries to the driver and myself. My bones healed, but I still hear the metal-on-metal impact every time I see a car approaching, fast, on a two-lane road.

What happened last week was tragic-comic. I was carrying a heavy bag of clay cat litter from car to house. I stumbled on a new doormat. My hands weren’t free to break the fall.

Forehead vs. door sounded like a thunderclap. A huge knot appeared immediately. Ice helped. But I had an interview in a few hours so, lacking any neurological symptoms, I soldiered on. Next day, my eyes were completely circled in black. Help! I am a raccoon. However, having temporary disfigurement happen isn’t the point. Having the unthinkable happen is. Like feeling embarrassed, ashamed for my country.

My grandsons live in Canada. We are good buddies; I lived close by when they were small and visited every six weeks after I returned to N.C.  Now they are grown men, with busy lives — jobs, law school, travel, girls.

I fly there about four times a year, which means I have every airline, route, terminal, food court between Greensboro and Montreal down pat. That includes navigating the massive U.S. and Canadian security, customs and immigration procedures at the Montreal airport.

To differentiate my roller bag from others, I tie an American flag bandanna around the handle. Last trip, for the first time, I felt concerned. Might my bag be vandalized? President Trump has angered our BFF Canadians with his rhetoric and tariffs, which have just taken effect. He insulted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau behind his back — calling him an “embarrassment” and a “terrible president” (the prime minister, actually) — while glad-handing him in person.

Is he nuts?

During my 25 years in Canada I observed that Canadians look up to Americans, sometimes with envy. Canadian businesses display American flags on July Fourth. I also know that Americans traditionally value their “friends to the north” for more than beer and hockey. The 5,000-mile border is minimally guarded and mostly peaceful. Now I am worried, even ashamed by the way the country I love is treating theirs.

Who ever thought that would happen?

By the same token, who ever imagined the leader of the greatest and most powerful nation the world has ever produced would shock and alienate longtime international allies gathered at conferences? Would snuggle up to regimes known to violate human rights, execute dissenters?

Whoever thought that Americans would feel compelled to apologize for their president’s policies or, as an increasing number of government officials have done, resign?  

Whoever thought I would worry about my suitcase displaying stars and stripes?

Sorry, folks, but what only happens to others has happened to us.

Currently, the land of the free and home of the brave sports different posters: Instead of the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower, Lincoln Memorial and Mount Rushmore, we see parents who left life-threatening circumstances, sometimes on foot, seeking asylum. Wailing children, separated from everything familiar, including Mommy and Poppy. These children are blameless, yet punished. Because clean clothes, a few toys and healthy meals at a relocation center photo-op with the First Lady do not replace the strongest of human bonds.

I’m ashamed that I’m ashamed. But I’m committed to do something about it, given the only weapon at my disposal. Because according to words written by an Englishman appearing on the wall of the Library of Congress: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Mightier than misguided bombast, too, let’s hope.


(5) comments

Mark Hayes

You have become a constant traveler on the road to nowhere. Most of us have all experienced tragic events in our lives, unforgettable and life changing, we just don't spend the time you do rehashing it, we move on, or maybe in your own case, just move.

Ed Pieczynski

Yeah, those welcoming Canadians. Just two weeks ago a liberal member of Parliament and a special advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau had this to say:
"Other than indigenous peoples...our country has been built on, and will continue to be built on, immigration," he said. "But if you cross the border illegally, you will be breaking the law. You will be apprehended. And after that, you will be in detention."

Catch that....you will be apprehended and you will be in detention.

Historically Canada approves about 8 percent of asylum seekers. The remaining 92 percent are deported back to their home countries. In comparison, the US approves about 50 percent. Hmmmm, those bad Americans.

Since you were a 25 year resident of Canada maybe you could apologize for Canada's lack of compassion and understanding towards immigrants.

Deborah Salomon

My experience, during those 25 years, was that Canada not only welcomed, but invited immigration due to low population. "Landed immigrants" immediately received health care, family assistance and other benefits. Proof: Montreal and other cities are mosaics of ethnic neighborhoods where culture flourishes...I have written about most of them...Greek, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean.. At the famous Jean Talon city produce market, 100 languages and dialects are spoken any given Saturday. For many years, provincial governments provided free language instruction in French and English. Some of this may have moderated ... but the door still seems to be open from what I see at the airport.
Of course "legal" immigration procedures are required and people with criminal backgrounds are refused... but it seems that asylum-seekers are given a chance and families aren't separated.\
No system is perfect. Just a shame that the United States now has an unfavorable reputation.

Ed Pieczynski

While I appreciate your "experience" recent official statements and historical figures paint a different picture. In Canada asylum seekers are given a chance.....and 92 percent of them are turned away.

Bridget Gulka

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