What serendipity looks like
Robbie was a special kid. His name wasn’t Robbie, it was Rob. But I called him Robbie affectionately because, well because he was a special kid.
I first taught him in my year ten English class. He was all black skinny jeans, band shirts and bouncy blonde hair. Everyone loved Robbie. He was smart, kind and saturated in the shiny glisten of a kid on the precipice of great things.
Unlike most other boys his age, he was a sensitive kid; obsessed with music, literature and with a keen desire to truly know things, to ask questions, to probe and ponder a path through his youth.
Robbie had it tough. He was suffering from quite a few tragic circumstances. I won’t mention them here because they are Robbie’s stories to tell, not mine.
Needless to say though that I like to think I took Robbie under my wing.
I’d often see him walking along the school’s garden paths trapped in his own thoughts; his demons chasing that youthful mop of blonde hair like a poisonous vapour behind him. I’d always pause and ask if he’d like to chat, if those demons needed a friendly ear.
Often he said yes. Yes, actually, I need to talk. So we’d stand there as the bell rang and as the students milled past like so many industrious ants. We’d chat.
Sometimes being a teacher has nothing to do with teaching. It’s just being there. It’s just standing still for long enough.
As Robbie’s senior year approached he slowly worked his way through the slings and arrows of life. It wasn’t fair that he had to carry the weight of those things. It wasn’t fair. But somehow he did.
He fell in love with music and singing and became obsessed with the Arctic world; such a disparate world to the humidity of his Brisbane life. It was an alternative; a fantasy world of glorious ice and Polar Bears.
One day I was standing in the Library and Robbie approached. “Miss, I’ve reached my borrowing limit but I really want to get out this book on Polar Bears. Can you borrow it for me?”
Well of course. We shared a little joke that the book was so good that he was going to keep it.
Graduation came. Robbie’s year was the first group of students whom I had taught for the full five years; from the time they had squeaked at me in class as veritable infants until those moments of grandeur on the graduating stage where their shoulders squared into adulthood and hope.
It was his last day and Robbie still hadn’t returned the book on Polar Bears. We kept it as a little unspoken joke between us and as he crossed that threshold and bounced into the world beyond our little school he took a newfound strength with him. And the book.
Five years passed.
I had been catching up with several of Robbie’s contemporaries and sent him a message asking what he was up to and where he found himself in the world.
Back came the response that he was in Canada, travelling the world and having fun. What wonderful news. He was forging his own happiness.
I asked him if he liked Canada as my best friend had married a Canadian and was living just below the Arctic Circle up north.
Back came the reply. He loved it. It was the polar paradise that he’d always dreamed of. If he could get a job, he’d stay.
There are moments when serendipity descends like a fortuitous shroud and drenches you in perfect clarity.
The fact that my best friend ran a hotel and pub in THE Polar Bear capital of the world and always needed good staff to serve people whisky club and her famous Aussie burgers stood like an Inuit plinth of simplicity in front of me.
I contacted Belinda immediately and told her about a fabulous young chap who would be her dream employee.
Let me be clear, he didn’t need help. Robbie has an incredible set of skills, a soul-destroyingly beautiful singing voice and an amazing ability to make people feel at home. He had a resume that would have got him that job, or any other, in a flash.
But maybe we could do something a bit special here. Just maybe we could make a good thing happen for a good person.
Several emails, a resume and a Canadian visa later, Robbie was heading to Churchill Manitoba, the Polar Bear capital of the world.
The definition of serendipity is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”
I think that pretty much nails it.
To think that skinny-jean Robbie who borrowed that book on Polar Bears under my name from the school library all of those years ago is now living in a little northern Canadian town on the Hudson Bay, waiting on tables for my dearest friend and looking out of his snow filled windows into the icy heartland of the Polar Bear, couldn’t be any more perfect.
It’s an ode to serendipity.
So if you too feel the call of the Polar Bear and find yourself at the Tundra Inn in Churchill, Manitoba, ask to chew the fat about the Arctic giants with a young chap called Robbie.
Something tells me he could rustle up a very good book on the subject.
Note: This story is published with Robbie’s permission.