Spirit Quest

'Undoubtedly Obama's visit here or anywhere
in the world will be filled with jubilation'

By The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

“The tumult and the shouting dies, the captains and kings depart...”

These words written by Rudyard Kipling for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee apply very well to the scene in Washington DC. The celebrations surrounding the inauguration of the presidency of Barrack Hussein Obama have overwhelmed the capital of the United States. It reminds me of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, each having to outdo the other in glitz and costs.

The celebrations are particularly exciting inasmuch as Obama is America's first black president. Some will have been there who were on Washington's mall when Martin Luther King spoke so eloquently about a dream that he had. What seemed like a dream has now become a reality. 

More than that, Obama has taken the people of the United States by a storm of hope after the disastrous presidency of George W, Bush, probably the worst president our neighbours have ever had. Indeed, the whole world seems to be rejoicing and hoping that his presidency  will usher in a new age. One is reminded of Jack Kennedy's inauguration. The expectations for this new administration are enormous.

Canadians have also been there. Obama's motorcade was saluted in front of the Canadian embassy by a detachment of red-coated RCMP officers.

There are no two countries more intimately linked than the U.S. and Canada. We pride ourselves on the longest undefended border, but also about our trade relations, our cultural similarities enhanced by films, books, television. Our seniors, the snowbirds, head south in the winter while Americans head north during the summer. Our sports, hockey, baseball, basketball and others are cross border contests.

Canadians hope for a less tense and suspicious administration and look forward to Obama's visit to our country. He will be well received unlike his predecessor who faced protesters when he came to Ottawa. 

On that occasion people were prevented from standing or walking across any of the bridges over Colonel By Drive, the route by which Bush would travel from the airport to Parliament Hill. Buses were allowed to cross at Laurier and Slater avenues. I rode on a bus and recall the driver slowing down as he came to the middle of the bridge and announcing to his passenger that if they wanted to pee this was their big opportunity. His words got a rousing ovation from his passengers. Undoubtedly Obama's visit here or anywhere in the world will be filled with jubilation. 

In the midst of all the excitement there is always that sense that he cannot live up to everyone's expectations. He cannot please everyone. His first priority has to be to his own people's needs. 

It is my fervent hope that at last Omar Khadr, a young man born in Canada, will be released from Guantanamo which Obama has vowed to close down, and be repatriated . Shamefully our own Prime Minister  has done little for this person. He was a child when apprehended. His life has been a tragedy. One cannot help but wonder how scarred his mind and psyche has become by the events of the past seven years.

By the time you read this the celebrations in Washington will have abated and the hard work of governing  will have begun. A new spirit is already apparent across the nation touching Democrats and Republicans. It touches us as well. Our relationship with our southern neighbour cannot rest on him alone. We too must reach out in friendship and support. 

There is a spirit alive and at work. Let us celebrate it daily.

January 23, 2009

More about Rev. Dr. Hanns Skoutajan's story can be found in his excellent book Uprooted and Transplanted: A Sudeten Odyssey from Tragedy to Freedom available from Canada Books Online. — Mike Heenan, Literary Editor