I've told this story but have wanted to write it down. It is one of the reasons why I started this blog, and now is the time to write it.
I have a favourite moment that I often recall when I need to summon strength or find motivation. Often, it is pivotal in helping me alter my attitude from being on the defensive, and living with fear, versus being on the offensive, and living with hope.
In the summer of 1991, I was planning to leave The Island to go to grad school. I had chosen the University of Waterloo; a school with a rather stout program. UW has a faculty of mathematics (versus a department). Its top math students routinely finish up there with MIT, Caltech, etc, in math competitions.
Though I put on a brave face, I wasn't looking forward to the adventure. I was scared. I didn't know if I could maintain a scholarship "in the big leagues", and neither my family nor I could afford this school otherwise. I had never lived off The Island and barely outside of my parents' house. In some ways, I had never failed; in other ways, I had lived a sheltered, easy life and had never been tested. I had no idea even how to prepare for this, emotionally, academically, grammatically.
To help mitigate the big change, I decided that I would move to Waterloo, Ontario (2 hours from Toronto) in July, well before the school year began. (Ed's note: no one knew that I would not return for 17 years and counting.)
My dad's side of the family often gets together for a "barbeque" (cook-out, as they say down here) in the summer. My folks decided to have one in the final weeks before the Big Move, as a send off of sorts.
Generally speaking, this group is literate, cheerful, and devout. Not much smokin', drinkin', or swearin' with this group. A clever pun in Scrabble game constitutes mayhem. (And actually is mayhem -- it's fun!) With respect to faith, people varied but at the high-end of the theological spectrum is my Aunt Judy (and her husband). They can quote chapter-and-verse with the best of them. Their house, a modest place with spartan furnishing, is filled with Biblical literature and deep books on spirituality.
My Aunt Judy literally has worn her hair in a bun forever. Like the rest, she is always cheerful, sunny, and is fantastically clever. The speed of my wit is little league by comparison.
Three Little Words
At the end of a long, fun afternoon, people began to leave. For many, this would be the last chance to see me before I left to "be away" -- anywhere off Island. I remember the dread of saying goodbye, knowing that I was one step closer to my own departure, my own new beginning. To be honest, I was terrified. I was exactly in that place that I would find myself so many times in life: on the defensive. A hostage, of sorts.
Thankfully, it was this day that I received the best advice I have ever known.
As she went to leave, my Aunt Judy approached me. With a beaming smile, she said, "well..." and her voice trailed off. She gave me a giant bear hug, and leaning in close, whispered in my ear:
Give 'em hell.