Like a lot of others I’d guess, I have the feeling the great sesquicentennial didn’t come off with the élan and charge that it should have. Even the climatic evenings on Parliament Hill lacked the full effusion of clear joy that living the harvest of our 150 years should have easily brought forward. And it wasn’t just the “tactical” miscues over security, the Styx-river length lineups to get to Parliament Hill, or the lack of any confident theme in the celebrations that dimmed things.
It’s hard to say, in any particular way, why the events of this July 1st weekend didn’t reach an appreciably different tone or pitch than that of the non-sesquicentennial celebrations of previous years. Maybe we’re just celebrated out. Maybe it’s because so many good causes now spatter the calendar. Or maybe there are so many festivals of “concern,” so many corporations, associations and institutions wishing to avail of this day or that day, for this cause or that group, that we can’t segregate the artificial from the authentic. Politicians flock to these ritual moments with that necessary zeal that comes with the longing to court a particular constituency, or to exhibit an easy commitment to the right donors or identity group.
We’re in an era where celebration has adopted a peculiar mode: that of the confession of sins not our own
The zealous recounting of past sins implies a curious exemption from like failings in those who so piously enumerate them
There is an unavoidable charmlessness in sermons that take as their theme: “We thank thee Lord, that we are not like those who were before us.” Sermons that mine the histories of peoples past, to isolate their flaws and moral squalors, and detach them from the stream of their own time and circumstance, in order to judge and condemn them — now. But, quite wonderfully, implicit in the apology for the sin of another is that it is not one’s own, or indeed ever could be. It is the cry of the Pharisee. Every such apology is the vessel for a sly boast.
They were not as we are, and we are not as they were, is the sermon’s crux and burden. The preacher at such doings bathes lavishly in the waters of righteousness, at no cost. There is no moral turmoil in apologizing for the sins of someone else.
But to view the past as exemplary, to see its actors in the round as men and women subject to the codes of their day, is to invite a different kind of comparison. In the days before affluence and technology, was it perhaps more difficult to live those virtues that come so easily to us? Should we not partner gratitude with judgment when it comes to our common past and those who lived it?
Should we not partner gratitude with judgment when it comes to our common past and those who lived it?
In our celebrations there was one note that was missing or certainly underplayed. Gratitude for the moment we have inherited. That however far those who came before us fell from the present codes of virtue and its fashionable display, they did, nonetheless, through war and peace, in the main with admirable stoicism and daring, ultimately provide for what we now have the good fortune to enjoy.
Maybe that’s why this 150th didn’t have the right feel. It was so very much about now, so little reflecting on then. We didn’t reach this fine moment on our own, and we should temper our judgments about those who gave it to us with a little of that current sensitivity about difference with which we seem so abundantly endowed.