The days whizzed by into weeks and then months drifted by in a haze of nonstop administrative fervour, numbers crunching into the millions drifted past my screen in the oblivion I call work. Twenty moons circled the earth before my brain told my body to stop before I dropped into the hospital statistics as a helpless, brain-dead mass of flesh.
Yep, I need a vacation, something I hadn’t had since time immemorial. I look at fellow Cree workers with envy and their 50-some-thing days per year of vacation, then the statutory days and to top it all off, the bi-annual goose breaks. Why can’t I get that type of treatment, I wonder? That’s because I am a dedicated, hardworking son of a gun, who shirks off weekends in favour of guiding tourists around my pleasant town of Whapmagoostui. I compare taking time off for pleasure as a deadly sin. I prefer to work on something around the house. All this takes some energy, of which I have little left in reserve.
I wrote a letter to my boss, requesting a week off, in Montreal no less, and the response was in my favour. Yahoo, I’m off for a week in the largest sin city in Canada with nothing to do but have fun. My body concurred with my decision to stop work, until my cell rips out some rap tune and another boss calls, ordering me back to work for the next two hours. I slowly tear out a few more strands of precious hair and begrudgingly meet the deadline.
Working hard is something that Crees did every day, working real Indian hours, sunrise to sundown, so work for me in an office setting never really felt like hard work. It is more like a week-long effortless activity for someone who was used to hard (slave) labour, except with pay. I remember one year, where I pressured my body and mind to the limits, so far that my left eye ceased to function and all turned into a sunless grey vision. Worriedly, I asked the doctor to calm down my secretary and reassure her that I wasn’t dying, (at least I hoped at that time). The doctor asked me if I had been in the Vietnam War, and I was outraged that I could look that old. “No,” I stammered back, now with my heart racing with a touch of palpitation, and then asked, “Why?” “Because you have what’s called ‘battle fatigue’ and your mind is telling you to stop right now.”
Battle fatigue? All I did was to drive from Chisasibi to Ottawa, then to Val d’Or, then to Mistissini and finally back to Val d’Or in three days, without sleep. What’s so bad about that? After being forced to stay in a hotel room with strict orders not to leave for at least two days I resigned myself to the dark room, to slumber for the next 20 hours. After awakening, I remembered who I am and called my buddies just to make sure that it is my real name and return to work, where my secretary gushed out her anxieties that I wasn’t able to see the signature on her payroll check that I had just signed, having asked her for a pen that worked. All kinds of thoughts entered her worried mind. What if he couldn’t sign the advance request? Who will sign the checks in the future?
After an experience like that, I vowed that I would never push my physical and mental limits so far again and I realized that I was walking down the path that leads to the graveyard. I am now forever grateful for the Cree system of vacation, long weekend, every statutory holiday in North America and a few other Cree-inspired reasons not to work so hard and so long.