Regardless of how worldly I think I am, I’m confronted with the fact that I’m not. There are two constraints in my life. The first is that, as I age, I suffer from what my friend calls a hardening of the attitudes. It concerns me. The second is equally alarming: I Iive in a narrow band of human uniformity.

Almost all my friends are white, middle class and my age. Apropos of this story, I count only one Sikh in my circle of acquaintances.

To break out of my hardening attitudes and my narrow band of daily life, I accepted an offer to become a deputy returning officer for an election of the board and officers of a Sikh temple society in Surrey, about 45 kilometres from my home in downtown Vancouver. Surrey is uncharted territory for me; sadly, in all my time here, I have never been to Surrey.

At 6 a.m., on a dark, wet, December Sunday, I picked up a few other hardy adventurers, younger than I by about 30 years, and we drove to Surrey. We arrived as an RCMP mobile tactical command post was being parked at the end of the school parking lot, the site of the election. There had been some violence in years past and the temple community was determined to run a free and fair election without threats and intimidation. They had hired my friend Ron, an outsider, with experience running elections and monitoring them in dozens of countries, none of which are considered tourist destinations.

This Sikh temple society has about 20, 000 registered voters. I was one of 50 or so outsiders who would try to ensure the smooth, fair operation of the election, along with a vast community of temple volunteers running the election as poll clerks, parking attendants and cheerful helpers.

The polls opened at 8 a.m., about 18,000 members voted and we closed at 8 p.m., cleaned up and went home. The election went as smoothly as any I have ever witnessed: few spoiled ballots, few rejected voters, short waits amid a calm peaceful but serious demeanour. I met some wonderful volunteers from the community, learned a bit about the history of the temple society and the issues framing the choices facing voters as they elected their directors. Time well spent.

What did I learn?

  •  That I alone am responsible for breaking down the barriers of my own isolation and softening my own hardening attitudes.
  • That there is an interesting, and to me exotic, world just a short drive from my home. I could explore that world anytime I chose.
  • That people are people, even if some of us wore turbans and saris and others wore blue jeans and Banana Republic sweater combos.
  • That life can be richer if I dare to climb out of my rut.
  • That boredom is self-inflicted.
  • That I have to relearn all these lessons on a regular basis, and as I get older I may have to shorten the time between lessons.

We Canadians live in a rich mosaic made better by a wide variety of cultures, habits, traditions and values, but we have to seek them out to benefit from them.

There was but one flaw in the whole day. We needed to be fed and they gave us pizza.

I was hoping for a few hot curries. I guess I’ll have to go back.