30 Nov 2010

Dear Scotland: A love letter from an immigrant

Dear Scotland,

Each day around the world there are millions of people who pine for you. Not a wistful, day-dream pining but a yearning that lives low down in the belly. They take your name with them everywhere they go as if the letters were part of the landscape: high proud S, rocky and round c-o, mountainous tl, and the final whispering a-n-d…flowing out to sea.

I am trying to think of another country into which so much longing is poured. It is a never-ending stream, like all the pieces that were first taken away during the clearances have been melted down and are trying to be put back again. To go back, come back, go home.

A vast fabric of clich├ęs has been woven over the centuries and a roaring business has been built upon it. Bagpipes, kilts, haggis and tatties, See you Jimmy. But these are like playthings that are tossed around the high street, and are not the threads which bind people to you.

Move beneath that false blanket and you will find it. It is the subtle combination of ancient stoicism and a myriad of windows though which a collective sense of mourning shines through.

It plays out in the far-away sorrow that takes over people’s features when they hear a slow lament on the fiddle. In that moment they are recognizing an ache from so long ago that the words to the story has been lost. All that is left is the feeling of it, like a old yet still contagious wound.

This is what people catch when they come here. It’s like you reach out and put a little scratch on them without them knowing. Even if their ancestors are not from this country, still you cause them to feel a little snag in their chests whenever they think of you.

It is what I caught, long before I moved here. Perhaps it is the Celtic influence that seeps through so much of Canadian folk music. However the seed was planted, a sense of relief has draped around me during the five and a half years I have walked this patch of the earth. From time to time things have been difficult, but always I have rested back on the grateful knowledge that I am here. In Scotland. Each and every day.

My only wish would be to speak with a Scottish accent. If my mouth could make the sound of this language I would speak poetry all day long, rolling vowels like marbles over my tongue and up the insides of my cheeks, and hurling my jaw forward with every ch like I was remembering some long-ago battlefield charge.

So this is it. My wee immigrant thank you for welcoming me like I was just the right cog needed to keep this mystery wheel moving. I can never repay you. But I promise to live my life here as an expression of joyful curiosity. Whatever I learn, I will tell the people who are reading this now. Because they love you, too.

Happy St. Andrew’s Day.

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