Canada

Not Sorry Bus

"Canadian bus crash"

“Canadian bus crash”

Our apologetic buses are kind of a joke. Image and text, a bus front with its route banner blank, reading simply, “SORRY”. More text, added, explaining something about Canadianness in general, politeness, deference.

That one word, sorry, has the potential to hold much deeper meaning. It can be the introduction to considering the impact of one’s actions on others, to feeling some kind of regret, to intending something better for the future. On a bus-face it’s perfunctory. It’s a pre-emptive shield against future rage. How can you be mad at me? howls a cloud of exhaust fading into the distance, I said I was sorry.

It falls out of warm lips inside buses as backpacks swing into faces, bodies wrapped in parkas squeeze together more than they all would like. It’s held out like a torch to part the crowds. Excuse me, sorry, sorry, coming through, sorry.

We speak to each other like a bus marquee. Hello. How are you. I’m good. I’m sorry. Words scroll across our faces, meaning long frozen and faded, a simple redundant sound. We mean oops, we say sorry, then we scuttle off like an empty bus.

There’s a second line not shown in this bus-borne sketch of laughable Canadiana, though, the companion to SORRY. The marquee cleans, and it reads NOT IN SERVICE, then back to SORRY, and on and on as the driver races to the beginning of the route or back to the garage for either home or dead time in the middle of an all-too-common split shift.

Maybe the second line doesn’t suit the meme-makers in its factual abruptness. It’s a sharp ending to a casual tale of apologia. I have nothing to offer you and I’m leaving, says the bus. Not the meme bus, though. Maybe the meme form wasn’t made for second lines, for nuance, for both/and.

Yesterday, as the -40 wind froze my lips, I watched a bus skate by, blaring its usual banner phrase: SORRY. But the side marquee told a different story.

In a frozen half second, a moment tinier than an ice crystal, I saw the line before the second line, before SORRY was cleared and NOT IN SERVICE took its place. Right in front of my frozen eyeballs the bus nonchalantly announced NOT SORRY, and then sped away.

Those who disregard the second line won’t care that it’s now been reclassified as third, won’t care that a middle chapter has now been etched into this mini-synopsis of Canadiana, our symbolic personality edified in photos of buses poached from news sites.

But we of the icy bus stop, of the wiggling toes and dwindling hope, we who squint into the darkness looking for that familiar constellation of lights that we recognize as warmth and mobility, we care about the new second line.

Even if it’s the most short-lived of all bus announcements, it’s the truest message I’ve ever seen transmitted from public service to public.

And so I present to you the modified mantra of the frozen, passengerless, Winnipeg Transit bus:

SORRY

NOT SORRY

NOT IN SERVICE

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Why we remember

Remembrance day can inspire many conflicted feelings for those who would rather support peace, see the end to wars, and question the reasons why nations choose to fight in the first place.

I have a hard time, especially on this day, voicing my dissent in a way that doesn’t feel overtly disrespectful to the very real suffering – and death – experience by other human beings, and their families, and their communities. War affects, and has affected, those who may not even support it.

Today, I’ve found myself returning to the question of why we fight, and how we can work towards an end to violence. If peace begins at home, what kind of home do we want to build? And if wars are fought for nations, and nationhood, where do we, as individuals fit into this? Do we support our nations, do we question them and the systems that support them? What does it mean to belong here? What do we mean when we say “we”, and how is this grouping a subtle act of violence itself?

I keep coming back to the Canadian context, the Canada that’s presented in the media, the one that doesn’t show the same picture I see on my streets, in my neighbourhood. The Canada that is a nation of settlers who are mostly unaware of their treaties, of newcomers and children of newcomers, of first nations who are still undoing the legacy of colonialism.

The Canada whose peaceful life was supposedly disrupted a few weeks ago, when a gunman stormed Ottawa – in whose Canada are we living in peace, or rather, who is included in this “we” that we presume are not living under constant threat?

I don’t have any answers today, but am inspired to keep thinking about this, even more so after reading my friend Rachel‘s recent blog post. She asked about the meaning of Canadian identity, and wrote:

As a non-aboriginal Canadian I have a responsibility to know my role and my history as a treaty person. I must learn what it really means to be Canadian. I have a responsibility to learn a history of on-going colonialism and my unintended complicity in the suffering and oppression of Aboriginal peoples.

Asking these questions is an important first step when we are considering our role in a global society, considering how to pay our respects to those suffering from conflict, and considering which conflicts are ongoing but may be invisible to those more privileged in society, like the ongoing, subtle violence of colonialism and racism and Canada.

Who, among the living and the dead, do we remember, and who do we respect?

NaBloPoMo November 2014