“Excuse me, sir! I can’t let you board the plane with this.” The airport security guard lifted his head from his task of perusing the few possessions I had placed in a small, plastic, open-topped box. “I’m sorry, but I will have to confiscate it.”
I glanced towards him as his voice shook me out of the song that was lighting through my mind. I had been standing at the check-in counter for a few moments, lazily glancing at the checkerboard floors at my feet as Gordon Downie’s poignant voice was rising up for the pinnacle verse of the song Bobcaygeon when the security guard spoke to me and snapped my mind back to attention.
It was August 17, 2006 and I was about to experience, first hand, one of the many new security measures that had been put in place in airports around the world, in this post 9/11 reality.
As I was packing my suitcase, duffel bag, small carry-on bag and a shoulder strapped rucksack, a few days before my journey to Nunavut began, I had very diligently made sure that no toothpaste, liquid hand soap or any other banned items where in my possession. The fact that I was now being confronted about an item that would not be allowed to go any further on my journey, had me full of questions.
The security guard, who stood several inches taller than me, with slicked back black hair and a fading suntan, lifted my keychain an inch higher and dangled it between his fingers. He could tell that I was rather taken aback by his statement as a questioning look stitched itself onto my brow. “This keychain means a lot to me,” I started. “It was a gift from my dad… many years ago. It’s a symbol of peace.”
At that, we both regarded the coiled, flat metal ring that housed just two keys… and a bullet. I could tell that he didn’t quite understand how this copper coloured bullet could represent peace and as I explained the symbolism to him, I remembered the time when my father had given it to me.
“See how the tip of it is dented, James?” my dad asked me as I traced the metal depression, back and forth, with my thumb.
It was over half a lifetime before this moment at the London Airport, when I had spent my morning riding the Toronto subway to its furthest north location before I started hitch hiking my way to my parents’ house for a Thanksgiving dinner. I was in my second year of post secondary school, studying Architectural Technology at George Brown College. Since it was a holiday long weekend, I had decided to invite myself to my parents’ house for the weekend, to see them, my older sister, eat their food, drink their wine and spend a few afternoons wandering through the hills and valleys that succinctly define this region.
My thumb found several rides that took me north, along the winding country roads lined with brilliant autumn coloured leaves, dancing in the soft breeze. It was a typical Southern Ontario fall day. The skies were aching blue with just a few brush strokes of white clouds that swept upwards on the easterly winds. There was a chill to the air, but while inside the car or truck that had stopped to pick me up, the sunlight beat in through the windows, necessitating the unbuttoning of my leather jacket.
It always made me feel content to find myself on the roads within the hills of Mulmur Township. The Niagara Escarpment had been the result of the receding glaciers, after the last ice age, and the second highest point in Southern Ontario was a short, five minute drive from the small hamlet where I had spent my childhood. I had spent several summer nights on these hilltops, throughout my youth, and on a clear night, my friends and I marveled at the lights of Barrie and Toronto that could be seen along the farthest expanses of the same horizon.
After a belly-stuffing meal, where I had barely managed two helpings of my mom’s homemade pumpkin pie, after feasting on a plate full of turkey covered in gravy and many vegetables from my parents’ garden, my dad asked me to follow him upstairs where he was keeping, “a small little something that I think you will like.”
We walked over to his high dresser and he opened the top drawer that was always filled with an assortment of do-dads and nik-naks. There was usually a book or two, in this drawer, waiting to be read. A small ceramic container was home to a large collection of pennies for when friends visited and my parents got into a game of Rummoli. There was a tall pile of stacked up and folded handkerchiefs. My dad always had one stuffed into his flannel shirt’s breast pocket. There was also a hand carved wooden bowl that was filled with foreign coins that he had collected over the course of many years as he traveled throughout Europe, and as he traveled for work while serving as an Electrical Generating Systems Technician with the RCAF.
The one item in his drawer of collectables that I always thought was rather hilarious was a keychain that he bought while stationed in Peru. His assignment lasted just a few weeks and during his down time, he enjoyed many of the local markets. This was where he had purchased this keychain. Dangling from the ring were two figures that had been cast in silver. They were two inches in height and each figure had a small, thin chain that attached to their backs that allowed them to hang from the ring. One figure was male and the other one was female. The male figurine was supporting a rather large, erect penis, quite disproportionate to the size of his body and the female had an open hole between her legs, where the male’s penis fit, quite snuggly!
I was leaning over my dad’s shoulder, as he rummaged around in his top dresser drawer, hoping for a glimpse of these two silver bodies, when he exclaimed, “Oh! Here it is.” He turned towards me and I did not see any silver reflecting off the evening sun as the dipping star’s last rays came in through the window. Instead, I saw a rather small shape, dully reflecting two different tones of rudy copper.
My parents know that I have always been very passionate about advocating for peace, by the cotton died pants that I liked to wear, the John Lennon T-shirt that rarely left my back and my Yin-Yang stud earring that I wore in my left ear lobe, so when I peered down and saw a bullet in my hand, I wasn’t exactly thrilled!
“The reason why this bullet represents peace,” he continued, “is because it can never be fired from a gun.” He turned the bullet around in the palm of my hand and simply said, “This bullet will never be able to harm a soul.” With that, he put one of his hands on my shoulder and gave a little squeeze while his other covered my hand, gently closing my fingers around the broken bullet.
It was apparent that the security guard had already finalized his decision to confiscate my keychain that had been in my possession for close to eighteen years. Although I had put forth some effort to persuade him otherwise, I realized that any further attempts would be in vain, so I tried a different approach. “Could you put my keychain somewhere safe, until my wife can come and pick it up either later today or tomorrow?”
He gave me his assurance that Joanne would be able to get it back in the next day or so. He said that he would put it at the Customer Service desk. “Thanks so much,” I smiled. “That keychain really means a lot to me. It was a present from my father.” I brought the conversation back, full circle, to impress upon him the personal value of this totem.
Without any further incident, my remaining personal belongings, airline ticket and I were processed and minutes later, I was sitting as comfortably as one can on a hard plastic preformed chair in the Departures waiting area. I only sat for a moment as an anxious feeling crept over me. I stood up and walked towards the large viewing windows.
“From sea to sea to sea” echoed behind my open and sharp fixed eyes as I peered through the airport’s windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the West Jet plane that would soon take me to Toronto, to begin my three stage journey to Nunavut. These words were from the poem that I wrote to compliment (as well as partially explain) my national art project entitled ‘Canada: Glorious To Be’.
The incident with the security guard replayed itself through my mind and I couldn’t help but to venture my thoughts back to the day when another journey began, a little over seven years before. My heart mixed with conflicting emotions as I compared this obstacle with the obstacle that I had been challenged with at the outset of this great art adventure. At that time, I happened into a situation that held the possibility of certain disaster for the project and life that I had embarked upon with my wife. The thing that I found to be concerning was the timing of these two events. The confiscation of my keychain happened as I was taking my first steps on my journey to a far off destination and the near disaster that Joanne and I faced happened as we were taking our first steps on our journey to Manitoba so that I could complete the second phase of this same national art project.