This is a challenge that takes me back – way back – to my early teens.
I was a Canadian boy in England – one of two Canadians in my high school. I didn’t mind growing up there – it was actually quite a unique upbringing with many interesting fringe benefits. Because of this appreciation I was really neither Canadian nor English. I existed somewhere in the gap between those two poles – keen to be where I was, interested and appreciative, but also Canadian at heart, longing to go ‘home’ to that vast land where the roads were wide and the skies magnificent.
Need more evidence? There was an American car down the road from where I lived – a big, 1974 Mercury Cougar – a rare thing indeed in the land of small cars, and every night while walking the dog I would stop for a good ten or fifteen minutes to just look at it and touch it, and dream. I had a Canadian flag on the wall in my room and I used to tune the football games in on the radio, all the way from the American Armed Forces Base in Wiesbaden, Germany. And even though they were NFL games they made me feel at home because of the accents and the commercials and the wonderful spectacle of sport. It was singular, really: I lived in Europe, and got a lot of experience from that, but my heart was far away, across the ocean.
This fascination with things Canuck actually came in very handy near the end of my English high school tenure. I’m afraid I was not always the model student I am today. For the longest time I did enough to get things done, but that is all. But then one time what I did was not quite enough. I always thought I enjoyed geography – knowing places and topographies and that sort of thing. But in my fifteenth year I took my geography classes with a mix of boredom, reluctance, and disinterest and on exam day it really showed. I guess all I remember from what I learned is “Sw-east-den” and “Nor-west” for where the two countries are relative to each other, and that just wasn’t nearly enough to pass my exam.
I dreaded the thought of taking the whole year over again and re-writing the same exam, so I thought hard about what I should do. That’s when I noticed that the curriculum actually gave the teacher the option to teach either Western Europe, or North America. My teacher had chosen the first, so I went to him and said “what if I study and write the exam for North America instead of Western Europe?” He said it’d never been done before but if I was confident and found it more interesting then I could certainly give it a try.
So I did. I studied all by myself, and I wrote the exam, and passed it with flying colours, all because I was a Canadian boy with a greater interest at the time in North America than in Europe. I passed my exam because my heart lay in one direction rather than another. I passed because I was teaching myself the things I loved to think about anyway.
There’s a lesson here, I think. We should all make sure that we invest ourselves in the things that interest us. Too much time is wasted doing what we don’t want to, simply because others think it’s what we need to do. If we’re adults we should be able to decide for ourselves where our interests lie – what excites us and keeps us galvanized – and we should be able to discipline ourselves to pursue it with all our energy.
Thanks for listening. Here’s a picture.