I have committed myself to living a grateful life. I want to remember how fortunate I am to have my family, my home, and to live in Canada. I have asked God to keep reminding me how fortunate I am. Every once in a while He does. Today was one of those days. Our dishwasher began to fail and we had to buy a new one. This morning, Mike installed the new dishwasher and took away the old one. As he worked I detected an accent and asked him about his home country. He said he originally lived in the Soviet Republic of Czechoslovakia but had escaped from communist rule in 1985. One day, he and some other men grabbed a few possessions, put them in water-proof bags, and wrapped them around their waists. They jumped into the Danube river by night, avoiding the guards who patrolled the border, and swam across to Austria. They turned themselves in to the Austrian police and he was surprised when the police officer allowed him to walk on his own to the police station a few blocks over. He had expected hand-cuffs.

They spent six months in a political refugee camp while they tried to determine where he should go. He asked to go to Canada without knowing much about the country; but he knew he would be free. He was told that he would be sent to Vancouver as the city prepared for the world fair. He had never heard of this place and could not even pronounce the name. He arrived in Vancouver and went down to the Expo 86 construction site. He had enough English to talk to the boss and say, “I am Mike. How much?” When they answered “four,” he agreed to work for four dollars an hour. Once the construction was done he worked during Expo in the kitchen of the Ukrainian Pavilion. He worked hard and went home smelling like cabbage and turkey; but the food was good and occasionally he would get some German beer. After three years he managed to get his Canadian citizenship. Soon after that the Berlin Wall came down and he could go back to Slovakia to visit family.

This is the second time in a few weeks that someone has told me their story of escaping from a country so that they could live in Canada. Those of us who grew up in this country seldom reflect on the lottery we won when we found ourselves born as Canadian citizens. It is easy to complain about things or wish for a different life. Ethan Baron, a columnist in The Province on February 23, 2011, commented on how many in Vancouver appear to be “Miserable in Paradise.” He says that

The qualities that make Vancouver so “livable” are certainly impressive. Our economy is stable, we can get into a good health-care clinic or emergency room any time, we have excellent roads and schools, we’re surrounded by world-class natural beauty. Yet everywhere you go in Vancouver, people are frowning. Rarely do strangers talk to each other in public. When two solitary people pass on a sidewalk, they avert their eyes and say nothing.*

Hmmm, Mike, thank-you for reminding me how fortunate I am. I think I will go outside and smile at some people.

*Ethan Baron, “Miserable in Paradise;” February 23, 2011; © Copyright (c) The Province.

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