A tough generation begins to fall from its perchELIZABETH NICKSON
My oldest friend died last weekend and yesterday, all us old Montrealers trooped down to Victoria’s Anglican cathedral to say goodbye. As Philly's generation begins to fall from its perch, nothing impresses me more about their lives than their leaving of us. Especially since, for the past 30 years, we've been telling them they were wrong about just about everything.
My oldest friend died last weekend and yesterday, all us old Montrealers trooped down to Victoria's Anglican cathedral to say goodbye. There were quite a few of us because she was popular and we were all glad because her last years were filled with pain. I used to call her Filly, this being the highest approbation I could give an adult since a young female horse was my highest good. At the age of four, when I stayed in her house, terrified I was so young and my parents so far away she noticed, pretended it was because I was cold and turned up the heat, metaphorical and actual. There was no icky sentimentality, no encouragement to talk about my feelings, just quiet human sympathy that triggered in me life-long devotion.
She looked like the last Empress of China, tiny, bird-boned, with a cap of shiny dark brown hair, fierce, correct, gentle, surprising. Hardly educated, she was cultured, and bookish in the best possible way. Her whole life was devoted to the care of others, her children and her husband, those who were ill, and after that her dozen or more causes. And she was not ashamed of who she was. It's this last trait I envy her most.
As Philly's generation begins to fall from its perch, nothing impresses me more about their lives than their leaving of us. Especially since, for the past 30 years, we've been telling them they were wrong about just about everything. And the ones I like best are not those who pander to our hipitude, but the ones who follow along the path of tradition, who dress properly, are emotionally reserved, write thank-you notes, inquire about your well-being with genuine interest, who have manners and are kind, but who don't miss a trick, especially when they look at our perpetual indulgence of our most vulgar needs. And who die well, with grace and fortitude in the face of pain.
"We were too strict with you kids," she told me once. Philly's generation and the one before it were very tough. If Canadian, they had fought two world wars from the moment said wars were declared, and endured a depression. They knew how brutal life could be and they wanted to prepare us. Until 1949, we were, I believe, in Canada, a military culture, constantly in readiness to fight. And despite the necessary flaws, it is a good thing we were. Without Philly's generation, it is entirely arguable that we would be living under fascist or communist rule. But instead of honouring them, we've all cried "abuse," charged them with racism and sexism, the plundering of the Earth's resources, the oppression of native peoples, and thrown out or reinvented every seemingly useless stricture they gave us. Including, I suspect, the institutions that protect our freedom.
I blame our intelligentsia. Tradition is important. Canadian tradition is even more important because it created the foundation and institutions on and in which we find our liberty and prosperity. And despite the shriekings of the Americans about their superiority, we are immensely prosperous and safe, arguably the most felicitously placed nation on the planet. In danger of losing it all.
We are good people, mostly; we descendants of original settlers, and those who came after were equally good. Ninety-five per cent of everyone who ever lived does the very best they can, within the limitations of their time. This despite the disgusting criminals who fill the dramas of our popular entertainment. The left needs us to think we are bad, so they can control us. I particularly despair when I watch, say, the CBC's $25-million evisceration of the lives of people like Philly and her ancestors and mine (paid for by us), a blatant re-jigging of the way things actually were; or the immense native rights movement, fueled by government money (i.e., us), fanned by youthful, poorly informed, badly educated activists who have no idea of the leviathan they are releasing, the threat to our Churches that is so ludicrous as to be unbelievable; the ineluctable fact that we have endured 30 years of quasi-socialism, that yearly our freedoms are reduced by webs of regulation, laws and hidden taxes, that we have no control over roughly 50% of what we earn, giving it to people who clearly feel contempt for us; that we endure a cultural system that we mostly pay for, that heaps guilt on us so we can barely respect ourselves; when we have a cultural intelligentsia which despises everyone who does not live in downtown Toronto or Montreal and which promotes a constant, unseemly, unnecessary, false and revisionist battle that makes it impossible for us to actually band together, act as one, and solve our problems.
What do you think the blanket imposition of guilt does to the spirit of a country? The annexation of the identity of "Canadian" by the federal Liberal party (and their cultural hacks), its insistence that we all hew to this grimly determined, legislated egalitarianism, is a cultural crime. It is grim, vicious ideology wedded to megalomania. Thank heavens, outside of Ontario, academia and the bureaucratic elites, most of us think it's rubbish. And no catastrophically boring realignment of our history by the CBC or new literary "classic" that revisits our soi-disant evil, blind, brutal past and strips it of its goodness, will change that. Remember G.K. Chesterton: "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around."
Elizabeth Nickson, "A tough generation begins to fall from its perch." National Post, (Canada) 25, May 2001.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Elizabeth Nickson
Elizabeth Nickson is a writer and journalist who has been published widely for the past fifteen years. Nickson was European Bureau Chief of Life Magazine in the late 80's and early 90's. Her articles appear in the National Post every Friday.
Copyright © 2001 National
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