We stand on guard for health care

TheStar.com – Opinion – We stand on guard for health care
July 13, 2009.   Dow Marmur

I’ve now lived longer in Canada than in any other country. But whereas in my almost 26 years in England I never sought British citizenship, I got a Canadian passport as soon as I was able to do so. Not having felt that I belonged in Poland where I was born, or Sweden where I grew up, I came to feel at home in Canada.

For here I wasn’t more of an outsider than the next person. Neither my religion nor my minority status was regarded as an impediment. This is the main reason that keeps my wife and me here, even though our children and grandchildren live elsewhere.

On Canada Day this year, the New York Times asked a number of Canadian-Americans to describe what they miss most about home. In addition to the culinary and the scenic that recall tastes and sights of childhood, two of the respondents wrote about health care, which epitomizes so much of what’s good about Canada.

David Rakoff, the writer, put health care on top of his list. Writing from New York, he admitted that “just thinking about it, and its absence here, can send me into complete despair.”

Tim Long, writing from sunny California, remembered the snow in Canada and observed that “to my Canadian eye, American snow is like American health care: sporadic, unreliable and distributed unevenly among the population.”

Long also described a walk home in a blizzard when he was 8 years old, his hair covered in powder, his eyelashes frozen together and screaming, “Why do we live here?” His mother took his face in her warm hands and answered: “Because it’s where people love you.” Our health-care system, with all its flaws, is a manifestation of love and responsibility for all who need it. And sooner or later, virtually everybody comes to need it.

Perhaps it’s this that attracts so many newcomers to become doctors, nurses and other health professionals. One of the many opportunities that Canada offers to immigrants and refugees is access to higher education, usually too late for themselves but in time for their children. Consciously or not, many descendants of immigrants choose helping professions that enable them to give back some of what they’ve received.

It has been my privilege to witness many college graduation ceremonies, the latest only a few weeks ago. The joy on the faces of the graduates and the pride and enthusiasm of their immigrant families who came to cheer one of their own is always palpable.

It’s yet another expression of feeling at home here and a readiness to contribute to the goodness they have benefited from. For them, Canada is indeed a place where people love you.

No, it’s not paradise. One of the New York Times contributors, Sarah McNally, expressed her “expatriate sorrow” by reflecting that “the weather has become warmer and the government colder since I left.” But the sense of belonging and the opportunity to have a say in shaping Canadian society by those who stayed behind and who make constructive contributions to the well-being and welfare of all citizens entitles them to criticize what’s wrong by trying to help put it right, often through service to the community.

Perhaps that’s why even divergent views are never expressed in Canada as sharply and as viciously as in other countries. The sense of privilege of living here makes even our disagreements remarkably civil. It’s the reason why our news attracts so little attention abroad. What foreigners may consider boring, even humdrum, we regard as mature and responsible. And we pray that it may stay that way.

Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. His column appears every other week.

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