An emotional argument you can’t deny

This is the third year I’ve attempted to read all the CBC Canada Reads books before the debates in March.

The long list of books is released in December. I recall last year plowing through books during our many breastfeeding sessions. By the time the debates rolled around, I think I’d read four of the five.

Thinking back to the previous year, I’m not sure how many of the long list I read, but I read most of the short list. I also had more spare time. What oh what did I do with all that spare time?!

If you’ve never heard of the debates, they’re quintessentially Canadian. Five personalities each vigorously defend a book and vote one off every day until there is a winner. There’s a different theme each year, 2016’s being “starting over.”

There’s no rhyme or reason to which book I tackle first. It’s whichever one I can get from the library first. Last night I was able to download the e-book version of The Outside Circle. I finished it in a couple of hours, which is part testament to how good it was, but also because it’s a graphic novel. It touches on First Nations gang life, cycles of violence and substance abuse, the legacy of residential schools.

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It’s pretty much a guarantee that if a book makes it to the Canada Reads long list, it’s decent, so it goes without saying you should read as many of them as possible whenever you have time.

I’ve written before about the impact covering residential schools has had on me as a journalist. Now I will reflect on them as a parent.

It has astounded me people who either deny the consequences of residential schools or shrug them off as not a big deal, get over it, it’s history. I’ve heard all the arguments before: speaking to extended family about covering a residential school apology event, I was told Aboriginal people aren’t the only people in Canada we’ve mistreated (as if that makes it alright, any of it). During that conversation, a minister said that the churches had already apologized, implying enough already, time to move on. The minister commented how one survivor was finally less angry – when I responded that she had every right to be angry and no one could tell her how she should feel, that wasn’t welcomed.

I’ve learned you can’t always reason with people using facts. A good friend once told me you have to meet emotion with emotion. So here I present to you an emotional argument you can’t argue with. And if you can or attempt to, you have no heart, and I’m not interested in engaging.

If you are a parent, take a moment and look at your child(ren). Think of how much you love them and how you’d do anything for them. Now imagine someone comes and takes your children away and there is NOTHING you can do about it. How do you feel? I look at my son and feel sick just thinking about it, to the point I almost can’t.

If you aren’t a parent, take a moment and remember yourself as a child. Who did you look to for comfort, safety, and love? Your parents. Now imagine some stranger comes and takes you away from them, either shipping you off to a foster family of strangers or a residential school where at best, you are separated from your family and loved ones. At worst, you are abused.

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Is there a worse feeling in the world? Pain is pain, and maybe it shouldn’t be graded or put in a hierarchy, but I’m not sure there is a more sickening feeling than what I just described above: the hopelessness, the power imbalance, the unfairness, the loss. It makes me want to cry thinking about it.

These were the thoughts running through my head as I read The Outside Circle last night. When I was finished, I held onto my son, vowing I would continue to respond to him when he cries, because he needs me, whether it’s day or night. And as I held him, I couldn’t help but think of those children and babies ripped from their parents’ arms. It made me hold him tighter. It made me stronger in my resolve to continue parenting the way I do.

The story is tragic, moving, triumphant – and timely, coming on the heels of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I hope The Outside Circle makes the final 5 because it’s a story that needs to be read, and I believe being a graphic novel means it can and will reach a wider audience. Images are powerful. And the more people this message reaches, the better our country and society will become. We could all benefit from a little empathy and compassion: it can only make us stronger.

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