Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Torch Envy

The advertisements were on television in Canada starting almost a year ago—sign up for your chance to carry the Olympic torch in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay. You can bet that I signed up on every possible website as many times as I could.

In April of this year, I was informed that I was a semi-finalist and I needed to write a short essay (250 words or less, which is, incidentally, the name number of words in the first three paragraphs here) about myself and how I lead and encourage others to lead an active lifestyle. I submitted my blurb and waited. . .and waited. . and waited anxiously for the week in May when the winners would be contacted. I caught myself, on more than one occasion, daydreaming about how great it would be if I were selected, mainly because that would be one definite way of feeling a solid and patriotic attachment to my new country. I was so optimistic that I would be selected that I even put off buying plane tickets to England for Christmas, because I knew that if I was selected, I would be carrying the torch just after Christmas.

The month of May came and went and I was not contacted. I was disappointed, and I could feel my disappointment resurface every time the torch relay was mentioned on TV or the Internet. But, I figured that my loss was someone else’s gain and tried to look forward to the Olympics themselves.

Then in late September, the most amazing thing happened. I was at work and my phone rang, an unfamiliar number displaying on the caller ID. The voice on the other end confirmed who I was and then said, “I’m calling on behalf of Coca Cola to thank you for applying to be a torchbearer even though you weren’t selected.” I was just beginning to feel a bit irritated that this woman was calling for no other apparent reason than to remind me of my failure when she said, “And I’m calling today to invite you to carry the torch on December 28 in Tiverton, Ontario.”

You would have thought the first words out of my mouth would have been “Yes! I accept!” Instead I asked, “But WHY? If I wasn’t selected before, why am I now?” She went on to explain that others who had been selected had to withdraw or were disqualified for various reasons. She said that if I accepted, I would be given the spot as I had already passed the RCMP background check.

I then said yes to the invitation without hesitation and spent the next two hours of work time excitedly calling my relatives, finding out co-workers, and sending e-mails to share the news. Everyone seemed very excited for me. Sarah put something about it on her Facebook page. We both believed, erroneously, that all the Canadians we knew would be impressed with my determination to take part in such a high-profile national event.

About two weeks later, some of the negative feedback started. On three separate occasions, I have been told by acquaintances, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot you are in the torch relay. My husband is so pissed about that.”

Why are these people pissed? Because I’m not a Canadian citizen. I reminded these people that I am a permanent resident of Canada and that I was completely eligible to participate. No matter. I’ve been told that it’s something that only Canadians should be able to do. Even some of my friends have been a little less than enthusiastic about my one-in-a-lifetime opportunity—their tepid interest and reluctant congratulations have really curbed my own enthusiasm.

Compared to other countries, Canada has a very high percentage of residents who are not citizens. Sometimes these residents choose not to become citizens but to live as legal permanent residents indefinitely. Others, like Sarah and me, are in the midst of the three-year residency requirement that must be fulfilled in order to even apply for citizenship. I am fairly certain that I am not the only non-Canadian citizen amongst the 1200 torchbearers that have been selected.

I truly believe that if I was a permanent resident of Canada but from, say, Italy, I wouldn’t be picking up quite as many feelings of resentment. I’m left to wonder how much of the grudge against my torchbearership is related more to the fact that I’m from the US than the fact that I’m not a citizen of Canada.

Two days ago, my torchbearer uniform and other items arrived by post. I tried it on for Sarah and we chatted excitedly about the upcoming event. She will come with me and take photos and cheer me on. But, I am wary of making too much of a big deal about it to the Canadians I know because their disappointment in me as a choice is sometimes obvious. I very much want my friends and co-workers in Canada to be as excited as I am and to see that I view my selection as a torchbearer with great respect and solemnity. I have been searching for some way to prove to Canada that I have accepted this land as my home. I thought this torch relay had the potential of demonstrating that.

In lieu of support from Canadians, I’ve been trying desperately to get my own family in the US excited about the event. I can’t really blame them for not quite understanding the magnitude—they are lacking the daily news coverage of the relay and the television hype tied to the Olympics. Besides, they probably won’t be able to attend because of the distance they would have to travel in the likely poor winter driving weather.

For now, I’m just glad that in late December, when I am wearing my white uniform and plodding down the main street of Tiverton, Ontario with the Olympic torch, I will look like every other Canadian torchbearer. For at least that moment in time, I’ll be seen as (and feel like) a true Canadian.


cls said...

Well I'm excited for you. Congratulations! How lovely that you put all that effort into getting chosen and it paid off. I'm looking foward to seeing photos of it all.

MSEH said...

Ditto. Even with all the controversy over the Olympics, I still like the "good parts," e.g., the honest, hard-working truly amateur athletes, the national pride, etc. I think it really sucks that anyone would have attitude because you're not a citizen. Hell, it's not like those born Canadian had anything to do with it! LOL! You *chose* Canada. IMHO, that's worth way more than citizenship by accident of birth. And, yes, pictures!!

Jamie said...

Are you kidding me - that's great! I can't imagine anyone with a better appreciation for Canada carrying that torch... You go girl. May just be worth making the trip to Tiverton to see ;-)