Published: June 2008
A few months ago my daughter Rebekah and I got into a conversation about taking risks. I don't remember the particular instance that provoked this conversation but I do remember suggesting to her that sometimes it is important to take chances. Her response stopped me in my tracks. "You don't," she said. "That's just not true," I returned, but I quickly backed away from this as I considered what she knew of me. Pretty much all the risks I had taken were before I was married, let alone before we had children. In true defensive fashion, I began to list these off to her.
At 18-years-old, just before completing a two-year CEGEP program in Montreal, a good friend and I planned to spend the summer on a kibbutz in Israel before both of us headed off to university. We were to leave at the beginning of May. A month before our departure, my friend backed out on me, which left me with two choices; go on my own or don't go at all. I chose to go on my own. When my parents said good-bye at the airport, I put up a good front for them. When they were out of sight, I burst into tears. I was terrified of going it alone.
The summer of my second year in university, I met a student in the one-year Master of Journalism degree program at an end-of-year party at our house (I shared the apartment with two other journalism students). After a few drinks, he told me he was driving out to Calgary in two days to find a job. "Really," I said. "How would you like some company?" I barely knew this person but I knew him well enough to feel safe about driving out west with him. At that point, I had no summer job in Ottawa so it seemed to me I might as well look for a job somewhere else, especially in a part of the country to which I had never before been and thought might be exciting to get to know. My mother had conniptions about me going out west with someone I barely knew, let along going out there without a job.
I gave myself a week to find employment because that was about as much money as I had before I knew I would run out. While I was job-hunting, I also had about the same amount of time to sleep on a friend of a friend's couch. I practically became best buddies with the people at the Canada Manpower Centre (that's what it was called in those days), showing up in their offices first thing in the morning, around noon and finally late afternoon to see if anything had come available. I'm convinced they finally found me a job because they were desperate to see the backside of me. On the last day possible, I showed up in the morning only to discover the people at Manpower were anxiously awaiting my arrival. They had secured an interview for me as a typist and all-around gopher at a Calgary trucking company.
Clearly, it wasn't going to be the most exciting work I had ever done but it was a job which would give me enough cash for a place to live and the opportunity to see the countryside, as I spent my weekends camping, which was the reason for my going out west in the first place. After I landed the job, I found a room almost immediately. As I recall, it was one of the most unusual experiences I had ever had with a roommate--she was tidier and even more neurotic about clutter than I. At no other time in my life have I lived with someone who kept her tin cans in the kitchen cupboard in alphabetical order and cleaned up after me. It was a blissful four-month obsessive compulsive relationship that I will never forget.
Like everyone else in my class, prior to graduating from Carleton University in Journalism I sent resumes out across Canada trying to convince anyone who would listen that I would be a good person to hire on their newspaper or at their radio station. After many months and many rejections, the Grand Falls Advertiser in Grand Falls, Newfoundland offered me a job. I had never been further east than Montreal and was accustomed to city streets and city lights. In April of my graduating year, I left for this small town. As the plane began descending before landing in Gander, I saw only water and trees beneath me; I pondered over my sanity and what had possessed me to accept a job in a place so far from the familiar. Unlike my stay in Calgary, I wouldn't be returning to school in the fall....
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