BOS 05 11 2022 doublesize
The first spring cleaning I did this year (back in February because once the warm weather comes the garden beckons) was cleaning between the screens and the windows that open. Bugs and webs were vacuumed. Dirt was washed off. And the windows got a wash and a shine. The washing was effective, but the first time the sun came out, I could see that the shining had not been as skillful. Some windows had streaks.

As the sun shone through the windows Sunday morning, I decided to deal with the streaks. I studied each window, took off the screen, getting ready to dry them properly. As soon as I stepped up to the window, I was blinded by the brilliant sunlight. I put one hand in front of the sun, rubbed hard with the other, and then stepped back, out of the light, to see if I had succeeded. The sun both revealed and hid the streaks that I wanted to clean.

In the introduction to her book Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling, Esi Edugyan quotes Sun Tzu from his book The Art of War (circa 450 BCE). He advised that when a battle would take place on a hill or slope, to take the sunny side. The opposition's eyes would be flooded with light. They would struggle to see edges. A vast force would appear smaller. People on the margins would remain unseen, to emerge at the last minute like phantoms pouring out of the sun.

Edugyan loves this image of the hidden suddenly rushing into view. She reminds the reader that recent conversations have highlighted the question of who is seen and who remains unseen. A world of shadows edges our history. Her curiosity about why we sideline some stories and mythologize others motivated the book. She set out to know the "living, breathing people who remained beyond our sight, occupying the shadows."

This weekend as I prepared for my first kayak of the year, I went looking for a pair of shorts. My summer clothes are all in a dresser downstairs so I knew where to look. Still, my first search through the drawers missed them. I think I was looking for the old khaki pair that was thrown out last year. It took actually lifting each article of clothing for me to locate the ones I still have.

In the garden, I have been watching the muscari slowly spread their leaves and bloom. I almost stepped on the nearby checkered lilies that blend in with the grass. I did not expect them this early.

We've all had that experience of focussing on one thing and missing something else that is right there. Because we were not looking for it, we did not see it.

At a training on engaging in conversations about race, I looked around the room and chose a table with obviously racialized people. I chose not to stay at the table where I caught up with an old friend who is white. I later learned that his companions were Oji-Cree women. That was a good reminder as I began the two-day event that I do not see clearly, that I judge the world with stereotypes.

Last Saturday at the stall at the market where I am selling the books I have written, someone stopped by that I knew from a church I used to work for. The man is somewhat handicapped. I focussed on chatting about how he was doing, but he wanted to know what I had written. He bought my fantasy set in Grey County. I had him pegged in a way that underestimated his abilities.

Last summer, the discovery of the unmarked graves of children who died in residential schools opened the eyes of Canadian society to a tragic travesty in our history. The story was already well known to Indigenous communities. Finally, the wider Canadian society was waking up to the reality we put indigenous children through.  

Many things can blind us. We see what we expect to see. We look at the world from our vantage point. We do not study what is on the periphery of our vision. What is well known to those on the margins may be hidden from those in the centre. We have to work, as Edugyan did, to uncover the lives of the living breathing people hidden from our sight.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway


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