Pat and Otto


This is the second of two posts I wrote about the controversy over Canada’s acceptance of refugees from Syria:

My last post is still leaving a nasty taste in my mouth, so I think I’ll share something that gave my spirits a bit of a lift the other day.

The man in the photo is named Otto. He’s an 89-year-old veteran of WWII whose wife, Pat, is staying in the same hospice as Dad. Over the past couple of months we’ve had quite a few chats, and he’s perhaps the only person I know who can call a man in his late forties (me) a “good boy” without being at all insulting. He often tells me how lucky he’s been in his life — not only did he survive the war, but he also managed to marry a 20-year-old bride when he was already an old man of 36. He said he never imagined that she would be the one who needed help with her breakfast every morning.

On Monday, I met him again for the first time in more than a week after returning from a visit to Kelowna. He asked about Dad, and I said it was good to see Pat looking so well. After a while, he started to look troubled and said he didn’t know what the world was coming to.

I assumed he was talking about the terrorist attacks in Paris, but he wasn’t. He asked me if I’d heard that four US governors had declared they wouldn’t allow any Muslim refugees to settle in their states. I said I hadn’t, so he said he couldn’t believe it was true himself. He said that at his age, not much could shock him, but that this was really, really shocking, coming from people who were supposed to be leaders.

This is a man who has a pretty good idea of “what life is all about,” and unlike the ignorant know-it-all at McDonald’s this morning, it’s made him a decent human being who doesn’t fear other people just because they’re different. It’s been a real privilege getting to know him.

Here is the first post:

I was in McDonald’s this morning having a coffee and a muffin when I overheard a woman talking about the Syrian refugee issue. (She was speaking in the clear, confident voice of someone who believes her thoughts are worth sharing with anyone within earshot, so I didn’t feel too bad about listening in.) She said a friend who knows all about the Middle East had told her that there are two kinds of Muslims, and that they’re constantly trying to kill each other. She then said she wished they would just get on with it and leave the rest of us out of it. (I guess her friend didn’t tell her about the West’s history of trying to shape the modern Middle East to suit its own strategic needs.) She then suggested that if Canada does have to take in Syrian refugees, we should send them up north — “WAY up north, where there’s nothing to eat but berries.” That, she said, would soon teach them “what life is all about.” (Like a lot of people, she seemed to think all refugees are welfare-recipient wannabes, not people fleeing horrors far worse than anything anyone should ever have to experience.)

According to this report, Canada comes second only to Germany in the number of Syrian refugees it has resettled so far (not including neighboring countries hosting vastly larger numbers). I know that a lot of people out there are not too happy about this, but personally I think it should be a source of pride to know that we are not, by and large, a country that cowers from dangers (real or imagined) when it comes to addressing humanitarian crises. I have a feeling, however, that Trudeau’s plan to bring in another 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year is probably unrealistic, given not only the logistical challenges, but also the negative opinions I keep encountering on this subject (not all of it as mean-spirited as that of the woman I heard this morning, but much of it equally ill-informed).

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