Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dipping Into My Past: Sick Days

I'm going to try something new here. Instead of writing about something that's relevant to me right now, I'm going to try to reach back and recount something significant from my past. This may be something I do regularly, or it may be the only time I ever do this, I haven't decided yet.

I bounced around a lot of schools as a child. My parents moved pretty regularly; they have a habit of getting bored with a home and deciding to look for a new one. I don't think they've ever spent more than seven years in a single home before deciding to move. As a result, my high school was the sixth school I had attended. I even chose to go out of area, so once again I knew nobody, but that's a story for another time.

One thing was always consistent about my different schools: I was always one of, if not the, smartest kid in my class. Perhaps that's a little self-centred to say, but it's a fact. I always got the highest grades, I went to various special advanced classes, and I was acknowledged as the smartest by my classmates. Throughout grade school my teachers always loved me because I was quiet, I was always willing to help the other kids, and I compulsively followed all the rules. In high school I developed a rather deep seated cynicism and a penchant for caustic sarcasm, but I mostly maintained my compulsion for following the rules and my spot near the top of my class.

Being that smart actually hindered me in the end, as crazy as that sounds. I was able to cruise through school without working at all, until I finished high school. I never struggled with anything, and I never needed to study. I just breezed by on natural skill. Unfortunately, natural skill only took me so far. In university I hit a wall, and I hit it hard. I needed to work to do well, except that, as ridiculous as this sounds, I didn't know how. I spent two years barely keeping my head above water before I finally put it together, got back on track, and worked my way into B's and eventually A's.

Way before that though, in sixth grade, I was neck and neck with another boy, Blair, for the title of smartest. I remember in gym one day, the gym teacher asked the class who the smartest kid was (I don't remember why) and the class vote was basically split. At the end of sixth grade we had awards. Blair got the academic award, and I got the citizenship award, but everyone knew that I only really got the citizenship award because they couldn't give us both the academic award, and I had been a volunteer crossing guard (which fed nicely into my compulsion for the rules, I'm sure I was the strictest crossing guard in school history).

In middle school, I was no longer the consensus 'smartest'. The volume of children was just too high, and too spread out among classes. I was still near the top though. In eigth grade, my principal held a special advanced math class once a week, led by herself. Teachers could nominate students to attend, and my math teacher sent me. Near the end of the year, the class participated in the University of Waterloo Gauss math contest, a national (international?) contest for middle school students. I completed it and never really thought about it again.

A few weeks later, as I came back into the school from lunch, one of the other kids from the advanced math class spotted me and yelled out congratulations. A couple of the other kids started clapping. I had no idea what they were talking about.

It turned out that a couple of days earlier, during the morning announcements, they announced that I had topped the school in the Gauss contest. I think I placed in the top 30 in some sort of bounded region (Scarborough or Toronto or something) but I don't really recall. Anyway, the day they made the announcement I had been out sick.

I was sick a fair bit as a kid. It started because I was legitimately sick a lot; when I was in early grade school I would get colds almost constantly. They became less frequent over the years, but when I got hit, I got hit hard. Combined with a frequent difficulty finding friends (a by-product of constantly changing schools, being inherently shy, and probably just being smarter than most other kids) and secure in the knowledge that I would never have to worry about falling behind in class, I would beg my mom to let me stay home every time I had a runny nose. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. This time, it had worked.

I was never really good at anything athletic as a kid. I was born with a congenital cataract in my left eye. It's not visible, but it means my vision in my left eye can never be perfect, even with glasses. I'm convinced that the weakness in that eye was (and is) a contributing factor in my complete lack of coordination. I was also never particularly fast. I wasn't hopeless, but I was never better than average in anything athletic, and when I realized that I was never going to be particularly great, I think I stopped trying, which only made things worse.

Later in life I learned how to compensate for my lack of inherent talent at athletics. I discovered that in most sports I could be better than most others simply by being more determined, more fearless, and more willing to sacrifice my body. I'm not the biggest guy in the world, but I'm not undersized at all, and I can frequently use my size and strength as an advantage as well. I'm also head and shoulders above the (admittedly dismal) average fitness level among my peers, so most of the time I can win out simply by outlasting my opponents.

When you're a kid though, most of that doesn't matter. Natural skill seems to dominate, and I didn't have any. To me, it seemed as though the kids who were the best at gym were the coolest and the most respected and admired. In reality, I probably severely underestimated the level of respect (and probably jealousy) I commanded among my peers at that time. Still, I probably would have traded all my brains for brawn, if I could have.

This, however, was one of the few times where I was clearly and definitively being recognized and lauded for my academic achievements. This would have been one of my all time proudest moments, when all eyes were on me, and everyone took a moment to acknowledge something I had accomplished. And I missed it. I probably wasn't even really all that sick (I don't really remember).

Ever since that day, I've avoided taking sick days at all costs. I average less than one sick day per year from work. A few years ago I worked through what turned out to be respiratory influenza. I actually collapsed and blacked out briefly in the morning, but I was home alone and too sick/stupid to recognize that I was in no shape to go to work, and so I went in anyway. I wouldn't do that again; it's dangerous for both myself and my coworkers, but such was my dedication to my job. Colds don't keep me away from work or school, no matter how severe. I only take vacation when I'm actually going somewhere, and only the minimum amount.

I missed what I've always assumed would have been one of the greatest moments of my life, because I stayed home sick. I'm determined not to make that mistake again.

No comments:

Post a Comment