The passion to know more

The world is endlessly fascinating, and countless full of interesting people. Once at a party in a long time, I met a visitor to Guyana who turned out to be an expert on ferns. He was very enthusiastic and I spent an hour talking to him about bracken around the world and I could easily have spent another day or week on the subject. I didn’t know, until he told me, how crowded the bracken world is – green and gold and even brown and black and red, some inches big and little dot-like, with a thousand sounds and songs and customs of their own. If you should cut down one of your large tree forests, he told me, in the crown branches, if you look carefully enough, you will find twenty or more separate species of ferns. This visitor was heading up the Essequibo for a few days and was looking forward to discovering at least a handful of completely new varieties of bracken to add to his collection. There was going to be a full moon and there are probably some ferns that are particularly attracted by a combination of the moon and the sweet sap in the leaves of a particular type of tree he was hoping to find to her.

You could immediately recognize this man as one of life’s most happy people. You can always tell them. A kind of serenity settles around their eyes. There is no bombing in them. They are full of pure enthusiasm that brightens their faces and makes them lively when talking about what they love to do. They have no greed – no greed for power or office or money or public priority – which is why no career man, no politician, no big businessman, or anyone seeking prominence is in the rare category of the particularly happy is likely to appear. The truly happy are the ones who have the highest satisfaction in working quietly away all their lives to add to the stock of human knowledge in their chosen field of choice. The satisfaction they find in themselves is constantly renewed awareness of how their small daily successes increase the precious store of humanity’s knowledge. As an added bonus, they may also find pleasure in the informed praise of peers and colleagues in their field, but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is self-satisfaction, in the best sense of the world.

You often see such happiness tied to those whose jobs are also what they love to do as amusement – a very rare combination when you think about it. I am not talking about the ambitious professional man or politician or businessman or even a sportsman who drives himself at all hours of the day, whose calling consumes him completely. In that kind of man, nothing is amusement, nothing is relaxing, nothing is pure pleasure, it is all grist to the power or the silver mill.

The happy guy I’m talking to knows entertainment, knows relaxation, but happens to be involved in what work he has also chosen to do to make his living.

Take the visiting fern cock specialist. He was actually working in a very hands-on way, studying and reporting on bracken habit throughout the world, and trying to find the best way to control them when they become a deadly pest of crops. That’s his job and he’s probably doing more well than 99.9% of the guys the public tends to call big or famous or successful in this world . But his work is also his great and enduring pleasure. Every addition he makes to the wonderful catalog he compiles gives him the deepest kind of satisfaction. It adds new knowledge forever, and to all men. If he found a new species up the Essequibo, it would be infinitely more worth than a bar of Potaro gold.

“When I’m out of a limelight, bad weather or a poor running of thoughts,” EB White, that perfect American writer, wrote, “I like to sit and think of Edward Howe Forbush.” The great ornithologist, Edward Howe Forbush, loved birds all his long life when he was a boy of ten exploring for roof birds in the woods and fields around Boston until his death at the age of 71 when he had no but a few pages left to finish his magnificent compilation of bird life, the magnificent 3-volume book Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States has given, and will continue to give, infinite pleasure and guidance to generations as for them to succeed one another. Reading about, or knowing, such people is heartbreaking even in the worst of times or moods.

We have such people in Guyana. We should honor and encourage them. I wish I knew more of them but I know a little and their dedication and enthusiasm and simple joy is what they do – only regrets that it is only 24 hours which has a day to do – is a great thing for me to pick up when one is suffering from bad weather or a poor running of thoughts as EB White would say. They are among the truly productive among us and the most satisfied. The delight they take in their work and lives radiates for miles and miles. Such people have a passion that is fierce, innocent and perfect – a passion that, better than any other, drives the human race to greater achievement – the passion to add to knowledge of pure love etc.