(so this is a teaching blog, right? Well actually yes. I am in the middle of writing a piece on the esl/eap schism. It was getting a little hard-edged, though, so I decided to spend some time in the relatively tranquil waters of world politics)
I’m not a very politically active person, but I did go to Oka during the crisis — twice.
The first time was like a slightly gritty summer camp. After all, it is beautiful there; we fell asleep in a pile around a campfire, and there was probably drumming.
When we went back a week later, the visitors had left. It was still beautiful, but there were lines of soldiers on the tops of the hills.
We were not quite sure what to do: we weren’t really making ourselves useful, but we had a feeling of obligation, that we could not turn away from what was happening. The air buzzed with foreboding…
And then, a confrontation broke out between the soldiers and a couple in a car. The two were arrested, and the soldiers moved to take the car away.
But we knew there was a child in the car. We rushed forward to intercede with the soldiers and they pushed us back.
And then we just, well, fell apart. In our defence, we were youngish and sleep-deprived, and we’d never had that many guns trained on us before.
While we were sobbing and shivering, a woman appeared out of one of the dells. Her calm presence made me think she was a clan mother, but she was a visitor too, a Quaker lady* from Nova Scotia. She had emerged not out of the woods, but out of the Oka cheese outlet, which was, amazingly, still open.
She spoke calmly with the soldiers , and they agreed to release the child into her care.
Later on there was a hearing — we are white and middle class, and one of us was hit by a solider. This meant I had the chance to meet the Quaker lady again. She told me about how she had spent her day with the little girl. Little mundane details like how they had a picnic. I remember being a touch impatient: I wanted drama; I wanted her to shake her fist at the sky and curse the military imperialist complex, but she just wanted to talk about Oka cheese.
It was only much later that I realized that she didn’t need the grandiose statements because she had moulded her whole life into an act of resistance. Her faith and political beliefs were embodied in everything she did. Even her choice of residence was an act of resistance: she had moved to Canada in protest against the military actions of the US government.
I’ve been thinking about the Quaker lady lately, in these unmoored times when I’m wondering how to be. How to navigate this world where frightening things are happening on our borders. How to be of use; how to make my life a useful one. I think it’s time to cultivate some of her patience and humility, to practise waiting and listening. Sometimes the act that we need to perform is not a grand gesture, but something as simple as taking responsibility for a frightened child, or providing transportation somewhere — or not providing transportation — or passing on a message, or moving a file to another folder, or sitting on the floor in some airport. The thing about these Boschian times is that we just don’t know. Part of that is that we don’t know how we will be able to make ourselves useful. Just that it probably won’t be at the head of a march.
This is not a post against the marching. I went to the Toronto march last weekend, and it was wonderful in ways I can’t yet put into words. What I want to say is that the marching was almost certainly the easy part…
* her words