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Tara snapped this photo during a trip in 2011 to Cushendun, Northern Ireland.
Published Wednesday, March 2, 2016 2:22PM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 2, 2016 2:25PM MST
The numbers are staggering.
Over one million refugees fled their own countries by sea in 2015 and entered Europe.
Migration experts have never seen anything like it.
Never before have so many families tried to escape poverty, bloodshed and persecution at the same time, from so many places.
But can you blame them?
Who wants to live - and raise children - in that kind of fear?
My own parents didn’t.
My parent’s first trip back to Belfast since they immigrated to Canada in 1967.
Thrilling for them to return ‘home’ after nearly two decades away – thrilling for my younger sister and I to go too.Our notion of Northern Ireland was painted through my parent’s childhood stories, most of which ended with my Mom laughing so hard you never really got the end of the story, but you got the gist. It was a fun place, with funny people, who could see the humour in the absurdity.
That’s the Irish.
Yet my first clear memory of that trip wasn’t funny at all.
As we drove our obvious rental car through Belfast, an army jeep pulled up alongside us.
At that time, the British Army was still stationed in Belfast, helping quell IRA unrest.
As the light changed, it pulled just slightly ahead, and the back doors opened.
Inside, were four soldiers, armed to the hilt, one of them with his weapon pointing in our direction.
The four of them were very clearly studying the four of us.
Unspoken information passed in a heartbeat.
Did my Dad give them a nod?
Did they simply look at him and realize there is no man on earth who looks more like an Irish policeman than him?
Did they realize the teenagers in the backseat had stopped breathing and were soon to lose consciousness? (And then what danger would we be?)
Whatever it was, and without expression, they pulled the doors closed again and drove off.
And that is why my parents left Northern Ireland.
That name doesn't make it sound so scary, but the '60s were a very bad time to be a policeman in Belfast.
YOU were the IRA’s target.
Every journey started with a thorough search of your car, both at home and at work, to make sure no-one had planted a bomb under it while you were away.
Every shift was potentially life threatening - some spent dodging gunfire or molotov cocktails.
Quick research reveals some shocking numbers. More than 300 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were killed during 'The Troubles', another 9000 injured.
At one time, it was the most dangerous police force in the world in which to serve.
Police here judged character and intent in the blink of eye, because their very lives depended on it. Uncertainty and malevolence loomed large in neighborhoods where kids should just have been able to be kids.
To say 'The Troubles' were all about religion isn’t quite right. It was primarily political.
Yet one of the first questions another teenager asked me upon being introduced as the Canadian visitor was “Are you a Prod or a Cath?”
I knew what she was asking, but I was speechless that she’d asked it.
Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?
Before I could say what I was thinking, which was “Why does it matter?” - my cousin said, without even knowing if it was true - “She’s Protestant.”
"Aye, ok" was the answer - and I understood quickly that it DID matter.
How could it possibly, to another teenager, matter what religion if any I was, coming from a world away?
But she'd grown up in a world where that seemed to be the MOST important distinguishing factor.
The only thing that separated you from the child across the street, the boy you shouldn't date, the family that owned the corner store, the bar, the petrol station.
Protestant or Catholic.
And many people died because of it.
After ten years on the force, it was a clock my father no longer wished to race against, and it wasn't a society either parent felt was healthy in which to raise children.
Don't get me wrong. Northern Ireland was marvelous too.
It was the first place I ever went to a night club, WELL under age.
Cue Bronski Beat and a disco ball.
What could be more thrilling?
It's the first place I tasted hot, greasy, salty chips wrapped in newspaper.
What could be more delicious?
And it's the first place I stood gazing over rolling fields, a thousand different shades of emerald green, dotted with the fluffiest sheep imaginable.
What could be more picturesque?
But that's a romantic view of the place, and my parents knew it.
They bravely left every family member behind to start a new life in Canada.
Because they chose us over parents, cousins, aunts and uncles – my sisters and I never knew fear.
We never knew explosions at shopping centres.
We never knew judgement based on religion.
And we never knew loss due to civil unrest at home.
The big joke in our family is that it took years for my Mom to actually figure out where she was in Edmonton, because my Dad never drove the same way twice.
It took her a long time to realize that if he took one route there, then he took another route home.
In fact, he still does it - not for safety, but because it amuses him. Old habits die hard!
But Canada is now ‘home’ and their love of Alberta is true.
They came here to give us a better opportunity and Alberta delivered.
As I look at the Syrian families arriving in Calgary, I have to smile.
There are few truly peaceful and safe places in the world. Canada is one.
Who wouldn't want to raise their kids here?