Born lucky

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky. Rus­sell Wanger­sky

On a re­cent Sun­day, I walked out­doors and up to the dirt ATV track where there was once a rail­road north of Car­bon­ear. The trains have been gone from that par­tic­u­lar route for al­most a cen­tury, but ev­ery now and then, ran­dom rail­way spikes still work their way up to the sur­face like shrap­nel sur­fac­ing from old scars.

It was sunny, the dust knocked down by light rain the night be­fore, and it was one of those few truly still New­found­land days when you could look out over the ocean and see the tops of the swells com­ing in as long sil­ver lines, not the usual crushed-foil sparkle of wind­mussed wa­ter.

Nine o’clock and the sun al­ready high and au­tumn-white, and I walked the old rail­way line with­out think­ing about how far I would have to walk to reach the near­est bor­der, and what kind of welcome I would face when I got there. A sim­ple trip, re­ally; the blue­ber­ries are ripe, and I was go­ing to pick a few bas­kets, just to have fresh blue­ber­ries and be­cause I like the sim­ple soli­tude of pick­ing them, the mea­sur­able in­dus­try tucked into oth­er­wise thought­ful time. I didn’t have to pick them be­cause I had no choice but to for­age for food, or be­cause I was try­ing to sup­ple­ment a fam­ily’s mea­gre refugee camp ra­tions.

I stepped off the old rail­way trail ex­actly where I wanted to, onto a nar­row path down to blue­berry bog, and no riot po­lice stood in my way. No one pulled me aside on the rail­way gravel and wrote a num­ber on my arm, spell­ing out which transit camp I was go­ing to be moved into. I smelled the Au­gust smell of hot ju­niper and Labrador tea, the amal­gam of peat and heat and scores of dif­fer­ent botan­i­cal smells.

I was both­ered by the sun on my neck and a se­ries of rain­bow-eyed, hun­gry horse­flies cir­cling for the chance at a small drink of blood: I wasn’t hid­ing from air­craft that sought a far larger por­tion of that fluid.

I found an old, flat­tened stone wall that I’ve been to be­fore, where the bushes hang in on both sides from the blue­berry bog but where it’s dry enough that you can sit while you pick, in­stead of crouch­ing or bending at the waist. There I sat for a few hours, pick­ing litre af­ter litre of berries, think­ing about the sounds from nearby birds and the way the flick­ers have dug up the mas­sive anthills and the shape of the bar­rens hills against the sky.

I saw not one sin­gle other soul. And no one shot at me. No one was raped. And not for one sin­gle sec­ond was there any rea­son for me to be afraid.

The only death I saw was an un­for­tu­nate rab­bit that must have been clipped by an ATV the night be­fore, its sleek fur still pris­tine and laid as flat as if brushed, al­beit marred by the trails of night slugs, the sky-turned eye still bright and clear. The flies hadn’t even ar­rived yet.

I didn’t go to the beach, but if I had, the stones and sand would not have been in the process of be­ing searched for the morn­ing’s dead bod­ies, washed up from count­less refugee ships lost dur­ing per­ilous travel.

Thank your lucky stars that you were born where you were born, that you live where you live.

For all the “pull-your­self-upby-your-own-boot­strap­pers” out there, I’d just point out that I don’t doubt for a mo­ment that there are refugees who are more skilled, smarter, harder work­ers and more ded­i­cated em­ploy­ees than I will ever be. Bet­ter writ­ers, too. And that hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily helped them even one lit­tle bit.

If you’re lucky, an ac­ci­dent of birth — and only an ac­ci­dent of birth — has kept you out of Hun­gar­ian transit camps and Syr­ian war zones, out of smug­glers’ boats and away from barbed-wire pens.

Sur­rounded by riches, we should be far more will­ing to share.

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