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NICKY MARR: Our words can have impact we may never know

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky's view of the Caledonian Canal.
Nicky's view of the Caledonian Canal.

“Love many, trust few, And always paddle your own canoe.”

Those two lines were written in a ‘sorry you are leaving’ card I received when I got a new job in 1991. While I can picture the face of the person who wrote them, I can’t remember his name. 1991 was before social media. We didn’t keep in touch.

If I could find the card, and his name, I might be tempted to track him down and thank him for those lines. They stuck with me, especially the ‘paddle your own canoe’ bit.

When whatever-his-name-was wrote those words, I thought them a bit sad. ‘Love many’ was fine advice, but ‘trust few’? Combined with ‘paddling my own canoe’ it sounded like the recipe for a lonely life.

Over 30 years later, I realise that I adopted them as a mantra by which to become more self-reliant; to live my own life, not the life that other people might have expected me to. They gave me permission to change careers – more than once – and to follow my instinct, rather than following the herd.

I bet, if I did track him down, this mystery scribbler wouldn’t remember me, or having written those lines. He probably wrote them in every card for a decade; either that or he found himself regurgitating a quote from a 1980s Athena poster when someone gave him the card to sign.

It’s got me thinking about the impact we, and our words and actions, each have on the lives of those around us, whether we remember it or not. And if we could, who would we say thank you to? And what for?

We all have that one teacher who saw something more in us than the others did, or a friend who spoke a truth that we resented hearing at the time, but that helped us get our head straight. Or it might have been a stranger who paid us a compliment when the rest of the day was dark, helping to restore our faith in humanity.

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Just as we rarely forget criticism, we rarely forget those who have picked us up, encouraged us, believed in us, or helped us achieve our potential.

I was contacted recently by someone who was looking for a friend from the past; something I had written had led them to believe I might have known this friend. I didn’t, but I did some digging, sent back a web link, and asked them to let me know how they got on.

(I then had a moment of panic worrying that maybe their intentions might not have been honourable, but I needn’t have worried.)

My research did ultimately lead them to the right person, someone who had given them a nugget of sound advice which had altered the course of their life. The advice, never forgotten, helped them to build a successful and fulfilling adulthood. Almost 50 years later, a lost friendship has been rekindled, and thank yous have been said.

It took me till 2023 to finally acquire my own real-life canoe, which – as I’d requested – is a double-seater. So while I can now go out and literally paddle my own canoe, I do that in tandem with whoever is in the back.

Tandem paddling as beginners isn’t easy. Two people trying to steer the same small boat, each thinking they are in charge, is a recipe for disaster. Or at least a recipe for going round in circles.

I might see if I can track down that card, and its author, to say thanks for the impact the words have had. But I’d share a ‘ps’ to my story. In our double canoe, we are learning that the better we communicate, and the more we trust each other, the straighter our course.

And we can travel through the water faster, and further, than if we were each paddling on our own.

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