They say the best way to give God a good laugh is tell Him your plans…
My future path was clear when I was in high school. University for however long it takes, then a career in physics, either in industry or academia.
In those days the Canadian armed forces would put you through four years of university, in exchange for three years’ service on graduation. Summers would be spent in some form of military training, but all in all it looked like a better deal than struggling to find money, summer jobs, accommodation, all the endless little problems that need to be solved to get through university by yourself. So I applied, was accepted, and sent to the Royal Military College of Canada – a very different environment from the university I once envisaged.
The College had this strange idea that its graduates should know more than their specialty field, in my case physics. That meant by the end of my stay there I had two years of French, three years of history, and a year each of philosophy and economics, in addition to my physics study. The College also expected its students to be physically fit. Never in my life had I been so fit. Or since, I’m ashamed to say.
I may not have had the best physics degree, couldn’t have had a better all-round education.
Then it was off to navigation school to begin my three years of service. Gone were the esoteric equations of quantum mechanics and the mysteries of general relativity. Instead we had to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and horror of horrors, get the right answers.
It was there I was introduced to the Baha’i Faith by a course mate who had come across it while doing a course in comparative religion. I went to my first meeting with the intention of putting them right – I was convinced the last thing the world needed was another religion.
That meeting was full of surprises. They didn’t criticise or dismiss any religion, nor did they claim theirs was the only truth. They also offered me a perspective on history I had never encountered before – one that obviated the need for the different religions of the world to compete with each other.
I borrowed as many books as I could carry, and after a period of study, asking questions and yes, prayer, became a Baha’i.
Which presented a problem. My navigation training was leading to jet fighters capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and one of the dictums of the Faith is “It’s better to be killed than to kill”. We are also required to honour our contracts, so I requested non-combatant duty while making it clear I would always be obedient to their decision. They transferred me to a course that led to my posting with a search and rescue squadron on Vancouver Island.
One September I took a fortnight’s leave to travel to an Indian reservation with a Tlingit from Alaska to visit with the Baha’is there. It was there I met Marlene for the first time.
By August 1969 I had fulfilled my obligations to the military. I knew I wanted to travel for the Baha’i Faith and would have to earn my living wherever I settled. I also knew there wasn’t much work for half-trained physicists, and that navigators were rapidly becoming obsolete. So I allowed myself to be talked into training as teacher, and travelled to Edmonton to study education.
Marlene and I crossed paths again in October, and were married the following April. From now on it’s our story.
We spent our first summer in Hay River, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake in the low Arctic. We had been asked to go there to build up the numbers of that Baha’i community. Our long-term goal, however, was to travel to Samoa, as in those days Canada was responsible for assisting the Samoan Baha’i community. In American Samoa I was offered a job, but without a green card I couldn’t accept it. In Western Samoa I was told I could work there, but there was no money for hiring teachers. The Peace Corps was providing all the teachers they needed for free.
So here we are in New Zealand. We worked for a year in Nelson, then the National Spiritual Assembly asked us to settle in Greymouth. I got a job at Greymouth High School and Marlene began to raise our children, both of whom were born in Greymouth.
I soon discovered teaching was not for me. I fell into a job in regional development, which ultimately led to a job at the West Coast Regional Council. When that came to an end we shifted to Christchurch, where I got a job with the City Council and Marlene with the Ministry of Civil Defence.
In those days Banks Peninsula was its own local authority, and so had its own Baha’i community. We bought our house in Diamond Harbour to help build up numbers, and have been here ever since.
Physics, military college, navigating, Baha’i, search and rescue, teaching, Canadian arctic, Samoa, Nelson, Greymouth, local government, Christchurch, Diamond Harbour – God must be rolling around with laughter.
Our plan is to enjoy our current slice of paradise for as long as we can. Is that laughter I’m hearing?