In the summer of 1977, I crossed the Iron Curtain from west to east at the Berlin Wall, to visit communist East Germany. To that point in my life, I'd had no exposure to soldiers with guns. But at the East Berlin check point, I stood before a bunch of them as they scrutinized my documents before they let me through. I can remember their menacing
looks with a clarity that has never left me.
On the way back from East Berlin I somehow got separated from the group I was with. There was a maze of corridors that everyone had to walk through and I foolishly wandered away, and found myself lost in a no man's land of armed soldiers. I remembered the advice I had received from seasoned travellers in communist block countries: “Stay with your group”, “Don't wander off”, “These guys can arrest you for nothing and keep you locked up forever.” To say that I was nervous about my predicament would be an understatement.
As I wandered about I came upon a man who asked me, “Which way to the west?” I said I did not know. We concluded that since we were both lost, we would find our way to the west together.
As we walked through the corridors, he told me he was from Chicago. He was a nice, soft-spoken fellow, the complete opposite of the foolish and naive stereotype I had, that Americans were loud and arrogant.
Suddenly we came upon a group of soldiers, who aimed their guns at us. One of these soldiers growled in a language I did not know, but clearly understood to mean, “You are in the wrong place and you are in trouble.” I stood frozen in my spot, not knowing what would happen next. My new American friend asked, “Which way to the west?”
Again the soldier spoke with a loud vicious tone in a language we did not understand. He waved his gun at us. But before he could finish, my friend said in an even louder voice, “Shut up!” And then this polite man walked right up to the soldier's face and shouted; “I'm an American!” There was a silence of about 10 seconds (which seemed 10 minutes), and then my friend from Chicago shouted again, “Which way to the west?”
The soldier's entire manner changed. He took a step back from my new best friend, pointed to a corridor, and said with heavy accented English, “This way, sir.” Without another word my friend brushed right by those soldiers, and with a quick look to make sure I was with him, we walked straight down the correct corridor to the proper check point.
As I stepped out on the western side of the check point, I was surrounded by people in my group who thought I had been arrested and scooped away. And in all the ballyhoo, I lost sight of my American friend. I didn't even get his name.
From that day forward, I had a better understanding and appreciation for American boldness. A boldness that is not arrogance, but rather confidence. A confidence that means, even if they differ or disagree with each other, they will face great challenges together. A confidence that means if you harbour trouble with one, then you'll have trouble with them all.
We could learn from that in Central Canada, the Western Provinces, the Maritimes, the Territories and in Quebec.
America is not a perfect country. And neither is Canada.
Americans have gone through some dark and even shameful times. But as the late Gordon Sinclair said, “They put it right out front in the shop window.”
Today that shop window is CNN. Some countries, especially those that are repressive and not free, would never do that. But that is how things are done in the United States. I think that this one fundamental fact is what makes America great.
They have the right and the freedom to disagree with their own government. But just as important, they have the vigour to change things for the better. It is because of that vigour and that boldness that American people are a beacon for the rest of the world.
We all know that when there is trouble in any part of the world, it is the Americans who usually arrive first to help. Sometimes they are the only ones. It is a great irony that right now, Americans have a dispute with the government of Afghanistan, and yet they are still a prime source of aid in food and medicine to the common people of that country.
America is big and powerful. There is probably not much we could do for them. But I'll bet you a dozen Tim Horton donuts they would really appreciate the support of a few kind words from their greatest neighbour after what they went through on September 11 and the challenges they will no doubt lead us through in the days ahead. We should show them our support in whatever business or dialogue we that may have with them.
So I am going to do one small thing. I am going to the National Association of Realtors Conference in Chicago. I am going to support Americans in my industry; real estate.
I hope that you will also consider attending and show some plain simple support for our neighbours, and for the real estate industry in America. I hope there will be a record number of Canadian Realtors at the conference.
If I see you there, I'll buy you an American beer. I'd be honoured if you'd raise a toast with me to an old friend from Chicago who I haven't seen since 1977. It's been almost 25 years my friend. I'm sorry I never got your name.
By: Heino Molls