Growing up the way I did, I never really felt attached to one particular place, I never felt grounded or secure. I grew up with the feeling that the rug was always about to be pulled from under me with every posting announcement. I have never gone back to the countries I have lived in abroad, I always felt for some reason, it would ruin them, it would taint the happy memories that I have held onto during the bad moments.
When I left Ottawa several years ago, I knew I would have to come back, I just didn’t know when. Ottawa always had this push-pull feeling, it was sort of home, or as close to me understanding what home was. I had history there, family that had lived there, and we always came back to the same neighbourhood. In all my in and outs from Ottawa, it never really changed. The people, the culture, even the bars and restaurants that divided federal department employees, political wonks from every different political party, it just never really changed.
Four years had passed. I was feeling positive, and was ready to reach out to old colleagues, see old friends, and reunite with a city that I always felt torn about. I was finally able to see Ottawa through the lens of a tourist, and holy smokes, it was really fun!
We made it to the hill for the changing of the guard. A ceremony I would see constantly when I worked on Parliament Hill, and kinda made fun of, because the tourists made it difficult to go from one building to another for a meeting. Standing there watching the changing of the guard, I was struck by a huge difference. It not only seemed like a smaller ceremony than I had remembered, but, there was a huge security presence. I shrugged it off. After the ceremony, we walked over to the main statue where the tomb of the unknown soldier lay. A statue that I spent my youth hanging out around on Canada Day, Remembrance Day… A statue, that I never really acknowledged as significant, it just seemed like a great hangout when I was 14-19. As I was showing my son, it struck me hard, the guards standing, keeping watch over, the security detail all the way around the downtown. As I turned slowly 360 degree to look around, my emotions got the better of me. Everything, and I mean everything, seemed to have changed. It was only a short time ago, that people had been shot at on the very platform I was standing on. An act of rage and hatred that I had never seen or heard of in the history of Ottawa. That innocence and freedom that I was handed every time I came back to Ottawa, no longer existed, it had been extinguished the moment that act took place.
My heart-felt a little heavy at that moment, because I remembered the colleagues and friends I quickly texted after I heard the news. They were all fine, just shaken. One friend, was just across the street, another was in an office on the Hill. The city, had become a capital city that day, one that in many ways, I finally understood, because it grew up. As the event unfolded, its resilience, its culture, finally moved, the small town acting like a big city that I loved to hate, had finally become a big city, an international city.
It felt off in every way, that I noticed that switch, and guilty that I connected the two events. And sad that the city no longer had a love hate place in my heart, it was all love, because, the international kid I was, and the International adult I had become, finally fit into a city I couldn’t while growing up.
It was the first time, I had a glimmer of what a homecoming felt like.