Last week, again, I spent a few hours throwing a frisbee around on Parliament Hill. Sean and I met a few other players, and we played a few points of of pick up before heading off to dinner. That night there were a few hundred kids around, junior-high I think, and Sean and I threw with them for a little bit too. I’m sometimes out there after dark, but this time we got there around 7:30. It was a great night, not too hot, and with a tiny bit of breeze pushing around the handful of clouds in the sky.
At some point I looked up at the Peace Tower, and for a moment I was struck by the enormity of what I and a few hundred other people from all over the world were very casually doing: wandering around on the lawn in front of the seat of Canada’s political power, enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon without a care in the world. There were a few RCMP cars around, up at the front doors of Parliament and around the periphery, and every now then one would drive around the ring road and look around, and that was it.
One of the tour guides was explaining the Eternal Flame and its significance to a group of those kids, but he also said that even though they call it the Eternal Flame, they do have to shut it off twice a year for routine maintenance. For some reason, that struck me as well; the guide didn’t tell the kids an uplifting, patriotic fabrication. He said “This is the way we like to tell the story, but you should also know the way it really is”. And for some reason, the fact that the Eternal Flame in front of the Peace Tower needs biannual maintenance seemed like a profound truth, and a way better thing to tell the kids than some elegant, inspirational lie.
It occurred to me then that the most important right we enjoy might be the right to live as though we are not afraid. Not of the government or the police, not of nebulous, undefined (though, strangely, color-coded) threats and not of each other. Everything else, the freedoms to speak out, move around, engage in commerce or activisim, they all fall out of that.
There is so much, so much social and physical infrastructure that needs to exist to support that freedom, from honest cops and a fair, uncorrupt justice system to reliable sewage systems and clean running water. A transparent electoral process and the confidence that a dropped brick won’t cave in a CSA-approved hard hat, or that this drug I’m taking for my headaches isn’t going to give me deformed children. A reliable electrical grid and the fact that I’ll never have to choose between giving my child a meal or a tetanus shot, and that when I am old, I will not be abandoned or forgotten.
Canada is a long way from perfect; some of the warts on my country are awfully ugly, and there’s plenty of work to be done, but a night like that fills me with optimism. There might be half a dozen countries in the world where you can walk around on the front lawn of the main government building, for no other reason than you’ve got a disc you feel like throwing around with your friend.