It was a lifetime ago but I still remember my father bending his tall and lanky frame, reaching down to clasp my hand and walking me across the invisible line dividing Canada and the United States.
There was no control gate, no border check, no passports. We simply walked into Minnesota and a little store where he bought me ice cream.
It was a different time. Smaller governments, fewer regulations, fewer fears. National identities or the lines dividing them didn’t matter much to us. Canada was where we lived; the U.S. was our ancestral home.
It was back then that I formed the view that Canada and the United States were little different. The latter was bigger, bolder, more advanced in many ways but we shared much and were much the same.
Last week I saw how different we really are. The Humboldt Broncos hockey bus tragedy brought the differences sharply into focus.
Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast set hockey sticks on stoops and porches to show their grief for the 16 killed and 13 injured, and for all those suffering from the losses. There was Jersey Day when tens of thousands of Canadians, and others around the world, wore sports jerseys to show their sorrow, their sympathy and their support.
A GoFundMe campaign to help the affected families raised $11 million and counting.
Humboldt showed that despite vast distances, wildly different geography and many conflicting beliefs, Canadians come together when it matters. It also showed that we have not lost all our small-town values.
While Canadians drew together for Humboldt, our American neighbours continued their descent deeper into a miasma of distrust and disunity.
The storms of discord in the U.S. are so fast and furious it is hard to remember on Thursday what happened on Wednesday. Last week alone saw police raids on the president’s personal attorney, confusion over Syria policy, presidential pardon of another convicted criminal, announced resignation of House Speaker Paul Ryan and a former FBI director calling the president a mob boss and the president calling him a slime ball.
Once a global beacon of enlightenment and hope, the U.S. is a wounded and confused state stumbling along a crooked path through a cultural, political and moral swamp. It is a nation that has lost its way.
Many blame Humpty Trumpty, the most psychologically unfit person ever elected U.S. president, but he is only a historical footnote. The descent began long before him, back in the 1960s that saw the assassinations of the Kennedys and King, the civil rights wars, Viet Nam, the cultural wars between liberals and conservatives and growing class inequalities.
The United States is no longer united. The bipartisanship that saw people work together to build the American dream has evaporated, leaving a void being filled by brainless noise and moral apathy.
Having lost the will to work together Americans never will solve the problems that are destroying their society: gun violence, deep-seated racism, a drug addiction and mental health epidemic and widening chasms of inequality.
Lost also is the will to shoulder the heavy responsibilities of leader of the free world. Considering the state of the nation, that probably is a good thing.
A major difference between Canadians and Americans is how they view compromise. Canadians are seen as a people who try to resolve conflicts through conciliation and compromise. Our willingness to compromise has been criticized as showing ambiguity and weakness - an inability to take a firm stand – but it is a valuable part of our culture.
Americans see compromise as losing. When you compromise, the other side wins and that attitude is particularly evident in U.S. politics.
Without a willingness to compromise the next option is force, which often leads to violence. The world has seen the U.S. in that movie many times.
The past two weeks have allowed us to see the best qualities of Canadians while witnessing the worst of America.
We should not be smug, however. Canadians are different from Americans but they are close neighbours and it is easy to take on their ways, good and bad.
Humboldt showed us who we are and why. We need to remember that.