I was out walking on Saturday on the way to the grocery store, lost in thought, when I came alongside a young man (who from the looks of it was homeless), stopped for a smoke. He was excited, watching something above him. “Look at this!”
I heard it first, in the poplars. The magpies talking (as they often do among themselves). And then I saw a pair of them flying back and forth, carrying branches in their beaks. Building a nest. Together.
“I’ve never seen that before,” he said.
I have seen that before, but there is something about the first time that stays with you. His first time reminding me of my first time, reminding me how every spring is a first time. And I thanked him. “Spring is here!”
On this eve of Spring Equinox, it is hard not to think of those like this young man who find themselves roughing it on the streets. It is hard not to think of the families of the two police officers who were killed in Edmonton last week or the parents of the 16-year-old who shot them. It is hard not to wonder at the obstacles we have created as a society to that nest building among our own. The obstacles to education, mental health care, health care, and housing. The conditions needed for a human being to thrive. The tragedy.
These past few months, I’ve had the privilege of being on campus at MacEwan University not as a student or an instructor, but as a guest and a companion on the journey. As writer in residence. To mingle shoulder to shoulder, walk hallways, talk over tabletops and laptops with dreamers, visionaries, and creatives across disciplines. To have a glimpse into their future.
Mornings when I step out into the packed hallways, I often find myself pushed and pulled along in the tumult. Students streaming to and from classes, like fish swimming upstream to their spawning grounds in spring? What energy! Or birds migrating back north to their breeding grounds? I wonder for humans if this is our core impulse: this pull towards learning? Towards knowing?
Alongside this energy, there is tension too. Staff and students told me how the initial euphoria of being back to in-person learning has waned. The pressure cooker of the academic year, returned. The reality of budget cuts tightened scarce resources even further: departments (and professors) having to do more with less. Students working and going to school, carrying more debt. The world and its problems (especially climate change) weighing particularly heavily on this generation.
Yet in our conversations, I have found young people and the not-so-young are still imagining, still creating, still daring to risk, to literally bank on a better world. Against all odds, to swim towards that difference.
Spring is here. And with it, hope.