I was eating lunch at the university today when I overheard something that brought me up short. Two undergraduates (both male) were sitting at the table next to me, and one of them had pointed to a poster showing an upcoming film. The words “Terry Fox” were uttered.
“Who’s Terry Fox?” said the other.
I just about fell out of my chair, as did the first student.
“You don’t know who Terry Fox is?” he asked, incredulous.
“Never heard of him. Is he a director or something?”
The first student then proceeded to give his friend a brief rundown of the Terry Fox heroic arc.
“I can’t believe you don’t know who he is,” he finished off, almost stammering in his shock. “We have a run in school every year. Everyone knows who he is.”
At this point I couldn’t help myself and jumped in to the conversation. “Saying you don’t know who Terry Fox is,” I said, “is like shouting to everyone in this room that you’re not from here.”
“I’m not from here,” said the second student. “I was born here but I grew up [in southern United State].”
We gave him the salient details: the cancer; the loss of his leg; the Marathon of Hope; the return of the cancer; his continuing legacy.
“He’s the ultimate Canadian hero,” I finished. “He’s an Everyman. He’s an ordinary man who set out to do something extraordinary, and even though he failed in his ultimate goal, his legacy has lived on. It’s probably even more powerful now than if he had made it all the way across Canada. He’s not political. It doesn’t matter what you think or what you believe, you can’t help but support him.”
“Yeah,” said the second student, by now completely on board with the Terry Fox myth, “if you were against him, you’d be for cancer!”
We all laughed, I said I hoped they had a nice afternoon, and I headed back to the library.
It was an interesting conversation to have the same day I read Mali’s post about the cultural differences between use of language. Right up until the American student opened his mouth it had literally never occurred to me that there were people out there who had never heard of Terry Fox. His Heritage Minute is embedded in my memory for life.
So, my readers, you tell me. If you are not Canadian, have you heard of our hero? If you are, is he as strongly embedded in your cultural consciousness as my own?
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