Open your eyes. Take a good look around you. Unless you live in a small rural area, chances are you will see a rainbow of colour. Not the leaves which are so beautiful this time of year, or the colors of spring and summer which are slowly fading from our views. The rainbow that I want you to enjoy is the rainbow of multi-culturalism. In this season of gratitude, it’s easy to think of ourselves. To remember how grateful for the nation we live in, that a parent is still with us, that a child gained admission into their university of choice, that a long-awaited raise or promotion has finally arrived. It’s also easy to overlook those that come from different backgrounds than us. After all, they may not have been raised with our ideals, our thoughts on society, and our religious beliefs.
Refugees are nothing new to Canada and the United States. Claims date back as early as the 1770s when Canada accepted Quakers facing religious persecution in the United States. Since then Canada and the United States have accepted millions of individuals from around the globe.
Since 2003, the United States and Canada have occupied the top two spots for countries accepting refugees worldwide. So it’s no wonder that when Syria erupted in civil war in 2011, forcing an estimated twelve million people from their homes—half of those being children— the United States and Canada would be called upon again. With winter approaching and fighting escalating, the people who remain in Syria are facing a desperate need to leave their homes.
As the crisis has escalated, the stories and images of Syrian refugees have filled the news. The reality is that there will always be somebody—be it a large group or a single mother and child—trying to forge a better life; grateful for the nation they have chosen as their new home has opened both their borders and their hearts just one more time. And that is a type of gratitude that most of us can only imagine feeling.
Here in North America, we are grateful for the nation that stands for freedom and democracy. We live in a society where many of us are free to come and go as we please. Free to explore our dreams, free to make our mistakes with little recrimination, free to love whomever we choose. For some, such a life is not the reality of how they were raised. For many, oppression and discrimination based on gender, race or religion are a way of life. War, bombs and death is their daily reality. Yet these individuals still hold close to them a true sense of gratitude for what they have.
Can you imagine giving up all the things that you are currently grateful for to try and make a better life for your children? To risk everything to come to a new land, learn a new language, and, if you are really lucky, to work in a field for which you are grossly overqualified. Talk to a recent immigrant or refugee about gratitude and see what they are grateful for. A safe-haven, a world free of religious persecution, a place where their sons and daughters can learn.
So yes, I am grateful for my family, for my amazing children, for a job I enjoy, for friends who challenge and embrace me, and for the many material possessions that I have accumulated over the years. But this year, I am most grateful for the nation I live in that welcomes those who arrive with nothing, and helps them with their dreams of achieving all of their somethings.