Oh hello there, blog, it’s been awhile. I have been busy writing for Aerys twice a week, and when I have time to write for funsies, it’s mostly metapersonal stuff you won’t find here. And that probably had something to do with Falling In Love.
But now, in this awkward stretch of time between Canada Day and American Independence Day, I again find myself with one foot on each side of the border, in a search for identity and meaning in celebration and self.
Read on, reader, read on.
I had just moved New York City on my own, for the second time. Life was a confusing mix of both brand-newness and nostalgia. It was late May of the hottest, muggiest, nastiest, sweatiest, three-showers-a-day summer I ever experienced. I was lonely. Growing bored. And I needed something to do.
Well, besides hermiting.
I was mostly spending evenings alone in my apartment, eating stir fry vegetables, and trying to keep up with the scores of baseball games, and trying to keep my ethernet cord attached to the wall.
I was mostly spending evenings alone in my apartment, writing blog posts, and trying to read dense science textbooks, and trying to find the remedy for all the early nights.
It was America. I had just turned 21. My fresh young wings ached to stretch out in the moisture-rich air of the nocturnal city. My clean young liver itched to be taken out to bars and beat with brown glass bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard coasters, and swizzle sticks.
It was America. I was hardly even shy. But I didn’t appreciate the old Russian drunkards who called me Comrade, and got a little too friendly when I perched on my solitary barstool, trying to nonchalantly catch the ballgame.
It was America. But it wasn’t a place to call Home.
I was simply searching. Simply searching for a true sense of Camaraderie, and not the scary-predatory-alcohol-breath-kind. A True sense of Camaraderie:
One that involved more spur-of-the-moment enthusiastic high-fives and obnoxious cheers and stylized-fist-pumps. One with less unwarranted back-gropes and shoulder-grabs and yes-you-did-just-spray-your-drink-in-my-face-while-you-were-flirting.
I longed for a feeling of Home. A Home that brought a Sense Of Belonging among the strangest of strangers, the native inhabitants I dwelled with on this lonely island city: the fierce, fast, and forward tribe known to the rest of the world as New Yorkers.
It was America, and it was late May in the year of our Lord Stanley. Never had I worshipped him before. Never had I bowed before his altar. Never had I sung the hymns of Icing. Cross-checking. Power plays. These words were never in my vernacular, and far from my prayers.
But some small voice inside of me said, There might be a home there. Those high-fives you’re looking for? They are all really an allegory for Home. Find the Flag. And find them. Home.
My pure heart selected by the shepherd. Naked and new, blinking in the haze of the first sunlight, I shamelessly followed the flock onto the Vancouver Canucks express to the playoffs.
Maybe watching the ice in the evenings could cool me off after days in the high 90’s with equally unforgiving humidity.
And it would give me something to do.
And if I was going to be a pseudo-Canucks fan, even if I was only trying it on in the Search For Something More, I had to do it the right way.
I knew somehow I had to find the Home under the Flag.
Something divine guided me there. Some mysterious homing beacon within my unadulterated being brought me on that Companionless Pilgrimage to the One Bar In Particular.
The One Bar in New York City, hidden in the shadow of the majestic New York Public Library.
And the Flag was there, too.
The One Bar that proudly flew a Canadian flag above the doorway.
You seek Canada Cabin, the Messengers called it.
I hesitated outside as the damp warm air clung to me. Daring myself to go in. The scarlet Maple Leaf danced in the breeze, gregariously beckoning me within. Making me Promises. Promises not made by a dimly lit room with sticky beer floors. Promises not made by men and women who think you’re beautiful tonight but leave in the morning.
Real Promises. Of Home.
I paused. This was it. I had found it. I made one final eager adjustment to my Toronto Blue Jays hat and sheepishly sauntered in. Dreaming of that Promise of Home.
The Chef smiled at me from behind the bar, welcoming me in like an old friend. He offered me things like Poutine and Beaver Tail and Labatt Blue and Molson and Caesar. Things that sounded beautiful and elegant and foreign. And were nonetheless Canadian; gifts from His Home.
I was unsure of what to do with myself as I soaked in this sea of smiling, fine, fun-loving, folks. Every one of them so enthusiastic about something I knew nothing about. Every one of them connected by some kindred spirit, which flowed from within each soul and filled each pint glass to the brim.
I was unsure of what to do with myself, but at the right moment, in near-perfect synchronization, I managed to pull my Blue Jays hat from my head, sincerely place it over my heart, and stand among them in song.
And the roar of every soul in heavenly chorus of O Canada was marvelous and deafening. I put in my best attempt at belting out every third word, when I could manage to find the pattern of the rhyme fast enough to learn the lyric. But no one, not even I, could hear my faltering voice within the crowd of hundreds gathered in this tiny room. The energy was overwhelming. The cheering. The excitement. The vibration. The zeal. Like none other I had witnessed before.
And at the heart of all this Elation, at the core of all this Praise, there was something more that brought these Beautiful People together. It was deeper than colour. It was more genuine than nationalism. It was purer than sport. It was more altruistic than pride. It was at once both as tangible as the Flag, and as abstract as Love.
There was Brotherhood. There was Sanctuary. There was this Canada Cabin of Refuge for these Special People that would never really be New Yorkers. These Special People who never needed to be New Yorkers, because they all had a Home.
Their Home was not constructed by bricks and it was not even contained in that building. And yet they welcomed me there.
I was so afraid to be an outsider, but they invited me in.
And despite my concessions of heritage, they still treated me like one of their own. I was no longer the Immigrant among them. I was more than the Wide-Eyed American Girl in the Blue Jays hat who was desperately trying to fit in somewhere, anywhere.
Because I Belonged.
They graciously accepted me into their Home. They gave me high-fives and stylized-fist-pumps and Something More than that.
Something More than Hockey. Something More than Molson.
Toronto! they called me.
I was given a new name, by my association, not by my birth. And suddenly, I knew I had been accepted. I was born again. And I knew I was finding Home. That feeling I had been searching for. It was Here.
Under this Flag. And it grew in my heart.
Toronto! What are you drinking?
Toronto! Take our picture!
Welcome back, Toronto!
The feeling was Real. The Promise was Real. I found it in A Place. But it transcended that space. Now it was everywhere. Everywhere I was, was Home now.
The sense of Home was hiding somewhere inside the Lost Girl all along. I only needed encouragement to find the doorway.
And that was how I found it.
Home. In a crowd of strangers.
Home. Singing a song that I hardly knew, in a hot room, on an evening in May.
Home. At a time when I was alone, until we united under the Flag. Until I knew I was no longer an outsider. Until I knew I was never an outsider.
Lord Stanley was the vehicle, and his blessing upon me, and unto Him I will forever owe a debt.
But it was not about Winning or Losing.
It was not about the Canucks, or Poutine, or Labatt Blue.
It was all about the Special People who helped me find a path to Home. They called themselves Canadians. And they were Real.
I found the Real Promise. I found the Flag, and I found my Home.