Benns’ Belief: Cherish our history, welcome new ways

By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

My best friend in my elementary school years was, to my knowledge, from the only Indian family in Lindsay — Deep Chatha. His parents owned Queensway Market and Queensway Motors, businesses that many readers will doubtless remember at Queen and St. David streets.

Deep was cool enough to have an Atari system and often after school we’d hang out at his house where we’d obliterate misshapen, pixelated asteroids.

At Deep’s I’d marvel at the photo of Guru Nanak on their living room end table. It was so different than the framed Last Supper motif above our china cabinet at home, or the dried-macaroni cross that I had made for Mom and Dad years earlier at a church camp.

Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism, as I would first learn from Deep. Nanak taught there was only one God and that everyone was equal. Sikhs believe in truthful living and social justice. The time I spent with Deep in those years sparked a lifelong interest in world religions, including Hinduism.

While rudimentary video games were great in those days, just as often we’d be outside, kicking around a soccer ball in the spring and summer. Afterwards, on sweltering summer afternoons we’d sometimes go to his parents’ store where Deep would get permission to get us a couple of black cherry Pop Shoppe bottles from the store cooler.

Come winter we’d be snapping wrist shots at one another with our tired hockey sticks and worn-out tennis balls, streetlights blurred by muted snowflakes.

One day after school another student (we’ll call him Dwayne) called me to ask if I wanted to do something, but I already had plans with Deep. “Why are you hanging around that f***ing ch**k so much?” Dwayne asked.

At the time I didn’t know what that word meant but understood its intent to harm. (And I would later realize how sadly ironic it is when a racist fails to get his racism straight.)

I never bothered with Dwayne after that moment. I had already realized how attractive it is to hold space in one’s mind and heart to encounter other ways of living and seeing the world. That no matter what my truth was, another’s reality couldn’t take away from my own beliefs. In fact, it could only add to them if I allowed it.

As Lindsay and other parts of Kawartha Lakes grows and gradually become more multicultural, I think of all the amazing opportunities such diversity will bring.

Our cultural life, our economy, and our identity will shift and grow. We will still have our history to cherish but new friends will add to the stories we will one day tell, just as Deep’s enriched mine so long ago.

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