How Morgentaler exposed the chasm between elites and the rest of CanadaDAVID WARREN
Let me tell my reader about an "epiphany" I once had -- a long time ago, yet seemingly yesterday. Some things, especially memories of love, remain vivid for the duration of one's life.
The experience occurred when I was 17, travelling through India by third-class rail.
I had left Howrah Station in Calcutta the day before, bound for Raxaul on the frontier with Nepal. I rode 25 hours continuously on an unbelievably hot and crowded train (often thinking I might die of suffocation), to some obscure distant junction. There I changed trains, as instructed, boarding a flatbed, to my relief -- with crudely built railings and grid of low benches to hold the passengers in place -- wonderfully open to the sky. Another 20 hours, making every stop across the state of Bihar.
An atheist at the time, I almost prayed for rain.
In such a carriage, one does not choose a seat. It chooses you. I found myself physically merged with an extended family, consisting of two sisters, their frail-looking husbands, a sprightly grandma, and about 15 small children. The elder sister, sitting high in the middle of the mob, was also quite pregnant. And beaming with joy.
When I say these people were poor, I am describing a phenomenon beyond the comprehension of most North Americans. They had the rags they were wearing, a bedroll or two, a tiffin stack of simple food. (If they had any valuables, they were effectively concealed.) But what they also had was a treasure beyond postmodern understanding. They had each other.
I was passed a little baby soon after the train moved (so slowly, I thought I could outrun it). A little boy was also set on my left knee; there being nowhere else to put him. Rags were stretched against the scorching sun; a cool breeze puffed them. The magnificent scenery of the Gangetic Plain rolled by in splendour -- the little farmer's fields, the galaxy of villages. Chaos at every stop.
Eye contact was made with each member of this family in turn, and I was now fully adopted. Language was unnecessary: I followed the conversation in their eyes. There was some singing; there were some prayers. When mealtime came, I was passed my share -- a chapati, with a spoonful of lentils on it.
After a few hours of this, the profound happiness of this extended family had communicated itself to me. I felt an inner exhilaration of belonging, such as I had never felt; a profound joy in being alive. For these people knew: that life is holy.
"I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life."
Yes, this is a sermon. That would be Moses speaking, in the Book of Deuteronomy. I don't think I began to grasp this idea until I was 17, riding those rails through Bihar: that we choose life, or we choose death; for ourselves, for others. The rags you wear are of no great importance. It is important to live; and living, to rise, towards the Love that made us. "Rise, let us be on our way," in the words of the last Pope.
Like many, many, many Canadians, I took the appointment of Henry Morgentaler to membership in the Order of Canada -- proclaimed on "Canada Day" -- as a stick in the eye for everything we believe in. As a gratuitous insult to the memory of three million aborted babies.
It was intended as that. The perpetrators of this hateful deed -- presenting an abortionist as a model for "humanism" and champion of women -- knew perfectly well what they were doing. As I had learned even before the event, protocol had been breached in making the appointment. There was no consensus on the appointment committee; the chair, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, had failed to recuse herself. It was done deceitfully, after the Governor General's office had assured outraged callers last February that Morgentaler would not be on the list this year. And last weekend, as the rumour spread, a fresh round of outraged callers were being mocked -- given the phone number of Campaign Life Coalition by the Rideau Hall switchboard.
The announcement was then delayed -- another irregularity -- until after the Parliament Hill celebrations, to prevent a large pro-life demonstration from coalescing there. And, instead of denouncing the appointment, our cynical prime minister had "talking points" distributed to his caucus before the fact.
A very dark thing was done, as such things are always done -- in a very dark way.
Yet I think it may be for the best, in a longer view of things. We might often grumble that the "ruling class" in Canada -- the smug, self-serving, "progressive" political, legal, academic, and media elites, including the prime example at Rideau Hall -- belong to some other world than the one from which they suck taxes. But seldom is there an event so stark, that we see them as they are. The Morgentaler award revealed that to so many Canadians.
David Warren. "How Morgentaler exposed the chasm between elites and the rest of Canada." Ottawa Citizen (July 6, 2008).
This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.
David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.
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