Thursday, June 17, 2010

histories and apologies

In the news this week, the PM of the United Kingdom has given an unqualified apology for Bloody Sunday. I’ve also been reading about apologies for civilian massacres in Guatemala during the civil war. Both stories talk about how much it meant for the survivors to have the government stand up and say that what happened was wrong, and that the victims were innocent.

These stories caught my attention because we were talking about apologies for past wrongs at our Jean Vanier talk the other day. Jean Vanier spoke in his lecture about forgiveness: he said that to forgive a group, you had to start with an individual, so that you had a real human to deal with, instead of just considering the whole group as a faceless mass. As an illustration, Vanier talked about a young black woman who had hated all whites for all the oppression they had caused, and continue to cause, until she made a white friend in high school and realized that that individual, at least, was a person just like her.

And, while I hesitate to weigh in at all, from my position of privilege, I couldn’t help but wonder – while there are many things that we privileged whites have to own up to and apologize for here and now, is it fair, or productive, to hold me responsible for the abuses of generations past? Is there a statute of limitations on apologies, or is it better late than never, even if 200 years have passed? Our histories are important, especially in a multi-cultural experiment like Canada, and I don’t doubt that we have to name our mistakes, and accept them as part of our communal story, but how do we strike the balance so that we can do that, without forever looking back?

where we live and how we live

I haven’t been writing much over the past few months. So, what have I been doing? Well, among other things, buying a house and going to Spain ….

PJ and I got talking at Easter about the fact that it might be time to move. We like our condo, but we’d like a bit more space, and a yard so we can have a garden. So, the search began, and we finally found the perfect place – it’s a middle of 3 row-houses in Chinatown with a little space out back to do some planting and put up a clothesline, a 3rd bedroom, so we can separate our office/sewing room from the guest room, and a basement for storage.

The whole process was, of course, fraught with anxiety. Should we be buying a bigger place? Paying more? Giving up location for yard? Giving up yard for location? The bank would have given us a lot more money if we’d wanted it, and the house inspector definitely found a few flaws in the 100-year-old property that we’ve chosen. So, even though we’re excited, there’s been an undercurrent of questioning whether we made the right decision.

But then, we spent a week in Spain. The trip was a total reality check re. the North American expectations around housing. In Spanish cities, most people, whether they own or rent, live in apartments. And in a city like Barcelona, which has been inhabited since the Roman empire, 100-year-old properties are just like new! Seeing how the Spanish live has reinforced the reasons that we chose our new place, shared drainage aside: we’re going to be able to store some things, but we’ll have to continue to be smart about what we accumulate; we’re going to be right downtown in a mixed neighbourhood close to work and friends; and we’re going to be able to entertain people, without being lost in our rooms when it’s just the two of us at home.