New Citizen of Canada: Time for a Life Review

New Citizen of Canada: Time for a Life Review

I pose proudly with my with evidence that I am a new citizen of Canada: citizenship certificate and Canadian flag.This week I became a citizen of Canada.

But the journey began sixteen years ago. With a Sunday morning dream.

I walk through my house with a realtor. Every wall, shelf, and table full of memorabilia. Each one a work of art, recalling an event, project, or value. I know I have to sell it all. But how? I ask the realtor.

Somehow it is accomplished. I am in a new home in a city on a bay. Through the window I see houses, across the water, built into the hillside. Sun gleams on their walls and sparkles in the water.

Our new house is narrow, urban, almost flush with the house next door. But we go to a party in a big building. There, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi carries my young son on his shoulders.

It was a rare Sunday off from teaching Hebrew school. So, I could lie on the floor, writing. Next to me, my husband read and my children played.

Right then and there, I wrote out the dream in great detail. My notebook, I remember, was small. It had a red cover. This dream, I wrote, is about life review. Reminding me to walk through my memories. To think critically about them. But it’s not a literal dream about selling a house. Because we have no plans to move.

Nine months later, our family flew to Vancouver, Canada. By then, I had applied, interviewed, and accepted a job in a Jewish Renewal synagogue. One affiliated with the spiritual movement inspired by Reb Zalman. So, we were selling our home and hoping to buy one in Vancouver.

My husband and I wanted our children to love their new city. So, we brought them on a special vacation. To choose between two schools we pre-selected. Then, meet some new friends at the synagogue. Next, visit the aquarium and hike on the cliffs. And finally, enjoy a few days playing in tides and watching wildlife on the Sunshine Coast.

We drove across the Lions Gate Bridge to the ferry. I gasped; I knew this view. Here we were, in the city on a bay. Looking across the water at houses built into the hillside. Gleaming sunlight and everything. We were home, for sure.

What a dream it was! Every scene came true — literally. But the metaphor of life review? I forgot about it. We were too busy.

It wasn’t easy to be an immigrant. We spoke the language. Joined a community. Found a great landlord. But we were far from family. We didn’t know where anything was. And nothing worked the way we knew it. Traffic lights, school records, health care, banking systems. What people really meant when they said or didn’t say things. Everything was different.

But we learned. And we loved it. For ten years, I worked at the synagogue. My husband worked in in-patient child psychiatry. Then, he built a private psychology practice. Our children finished high school and started college. They went to camp and wove a network of friends. Then got involved in youth leadership, local theatre, urban empowerment, and environmental issues. Finally, we bought a new house.

Canada was home.

But the life review? I got busy and forgot about it. So, I worked myself sick. Then, I found a slightly easier job. But with a more complicated mission. Help make Canada more multi-cultural, inter-spiritual, and open to reconciliation.

Finally, it was time to apply for citizenship.

So, I filled out dozens of forms. (It’s the Canadian way.) We passed the interview. In a few months, we were told, we could take the oath of citizenship.

Then the anxious dreams started. We miss our appointment for the oath. Or: we show up, but the citizenship judge doesn’t know what she is doing. And, in the worst dream: my children get arrested the night before.

None of these dreams came true. Well, one did. The judge really didn’t know what she was doing. She mis-read the script. Indigenous peoples, she said, have “inhibited” Canada for centuries. Then, she mispronounced the names of all the local nations. Including “Squamish,”  whom she called the “Squeamish.” You can’t make this stuff up. But you can’t laugh at it either.

Life review? Yes, it’s time. But its terms have changed. Because my values and commitments have changed. Did I help Canadians speak their truth? Understand each other? Know more about each other? Find a shared spiritual language? Connect more deeply in community? If so, then my life is a good one.

For those who love weekly Torah, here it is.

This week, I am inspired by Joseph. He dreams: My wheat stands, while my brothers’ wheat falls. The sun, moon and stars bow down to me. Sold as a slave by angry brothers, he comes to a new land. He lives through challenges much harder than ours. But he reviews his life, and sees the hand of God. Later, he realizes his dreams were not just about family dynamics. Not just about his present life. Instead, they were dreams of the future. And they literally come true. He has both food and political power. And he sees his own life as part of the life of Egypt.

  1. I enjoy how you have depicted taking your home apart in the U.S. to take on a big change in your life. I partially understand the part from the Torah with context to your life, but not fully. Might you expound?

    1. Thank you, Jessica! I think the biggest connection is the idea of seeing a life path in a dream…but not realizing how literal it was until it is lived. Shabbat shalom!

  2. You remember a story about a man walking on a beach, after a storm, throwing grounded starfish back into the ocean?

    Did I help Canadians speak their truth? Understand each other? Know more about each other? Find a shared spiritual language? Connect more deeply in community? If so, then my life is a good one.

    One starfish says "Thank you!"

    I'm sure there are more.

    . Charles

    1. Thank you, Charles. What a beautiful message to receive on the eve of Shabbat. Thanks to you and Sandra for regularly sharing the ideas you wrestle with. It keeps me and others thinking! Shabbat shalom.

  3. Congratulations on becoming Canadian.. Though we will miss you in the USA, we acknowledge your decision to become one of our many Canadian friends. BUT… I’m not quite sure about the Joseph image. Perhaps it will come to me later. Remember though you are Canadian you are still American, because America is the continent, and Canada is only the nation wherein you reside and hold citizenship.

    1. Thanks, Vernon! Yes, that is both humourous and accurate about the continent! We’re planning to hold dual citizenship, as our families are still in the US. I’ll have to think more about the Joseph connection. It seemed clear when I wrote it! All the best to you and your family. Blessings for good health in 2019.

  4. Congratulations and welcome into the “tight knit community of over 36 million people”, as one Calgary airport ad put it! You offer some wonderful reflexions on this narrative thread of the last 16 years of your lives. Sometimes we are blessed to grow into our dreams. And the life review: always preliminary until our earthly end comes.

    1. Thank you, Curtis! It’s a big responsibility. Lots of history, culture, and politics to catch up on.

  5. You are bringing back memories of when I became a Canadian citizen, which was here in Vancouver in 2000.
    I had been living in Toronto as a Landed Immigrant for over 20 years and content to leave it that way. Charles already had dual citizenship and was pressuring me to do the same, but I resisted.

    What changed my mind?

    We were preparing our boat for a long cruise down the east coast and possibly into the Caribbean, with a return date unknown.

    I don’t remember what it was that made me check the Canadian Immigration website, but I did. Lo and behold I found all kinds of rules and regulations governing travel outside Canada for Landed Immigrants. None of which was publicized. You had to dig for it. The one that stood out in bold letters for me said Landed immigrants could not leave Canada for longer than 6 months without getting special permission from the government. If you did, they had the right to take away your landed Immigrant status and refuse you re entry.

    WOW! What to do?

    Answer: Just fill out these forms, telling them in minute detail the purpose of my trip, including all the places I was going and how long I would be there.

    Well If you know anything about cruising you know cruising plans are “made in jello” Never the less I wrote down every twist and turn of my imaginary itinerary.

    Our trip ended up in Vancouver, not the Caribbean, one month short of a year.

    Canada is still home. But I now have two passports.


    1. Sandra, that’s a great story of last minute problem solving. I’m just picturing it: you’re about to leave on an adventure, and leap into exciting uncertainty — and all of a sudden you discover a rule that says “you can’t do that.” Fortunately, it’s Canada, where many problems — not all, of course — can be solve if you fill out enough forms. Shabbat shalom!

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