Lessons Learned and the People Who Teach Them

This week has been a challenge. I’m not just talking about writer’s block (which is there) but a darker struggle inside myself, as I question whether or not anything I do has value in this world. I’ve been dealing with:

  • students who seem to think attendance during the last weeks of school is optional
  • students who think that my assignments and the deadlines associated are optional
  • administrators who think that my opinions do not have weight or are not worthy of consideration
  • young students whose lives are so difficult outside of school that its hard to see if anything I am doing is reaching them
  • at least one class where the women in the class refuse to speak up and participate, they defer to the male voices a large percentage of the time. It drives me insane as someone who truly values mentoring young women.
  • a complete lack of faith in myself as director, writer, artist, teacher

But then, Siobhan Curious over at Classroom as Microcosm, posted this prompt as part of her Writing on Learning Exchange Series: she asks this provocative question “Who Taught You?”

That message made me think about what we learn when we least expect it, and who teaches us those important lessons. Sure, hopefully we have teachers throughout our educations that actually teach us something, but I am beginning to think that perhaps true learning comes to us in a different way. This isn’t to say that we have nothing to learn in a classroom environment . . . there’s plenty to learn through those formal methods, but sometimes we learn in unexpected ways, and sometimes we teach without knowing we are  teaching.

In my own life, lessons have come from so many unexpected places and people:

  • the fellow teacher from Australia who didn’t graduate from high school, used less than legal means to get hired to teach English in Japan (you were supposed to have a college degree) and showed me that a love of life and a passion for following your heart is in some ways more important than what you learn  from books. Too bad I didn’t fully absorb that lesson until very recently, despite the fact that she taught me it about 20 years ago.
  • the lessons I learned about prejudice, hate, and racism while working with a group of Roma children in Slovakia.
  • the lessons I’ve learned from the leaders of that Slovakia trip, about caring, sharing, traveling and living life with the understanding that there is more to the world than our small section of it.

    The leaders of Dramatic Adventure Theatre pitching in to make sure we were well fed.

    The leaders of Dramatic Adventure Theatre pitching in to make sure we were well fed.

  • There’s my current student who faces all kinds of challenges including incessant and debilitating migraines, being struck by lightning, and numerous friends dying from suicide or car accidents and things. She’s taken all this sadness, all these challenges, and given herself a goal to help others by becoming a school counselor and learning as much as she can about psychology. She is an inspiration.
  • The lesson I learned this morning from a woman I don’t know. Mia McKenzie’s blog post starts with the words “Hey White Liberals!” and challenges me to reflect on ingrained aspects of racism and injustice that we all need to think about, and somehow change.

This list could go on forever, and my blog is peppered with posts about people of all ages, races, cultures, levels of education who have taught me lessons. The point is that we never know when we will learn something that changes our lives. Nor we will ever truly know when we have taught something that has made a difference.

With that perspective, perhaps my life isn’t as empty as it feels at the moment, because there’s always something new to learn and the possibility that someone actually learns from you.

This is my greatest teacher.

This is my greatest teacher.

 

Carrying Paradise Inside

I have learned some important lessons over the past few weeks.

The lessons began with the horror of Newtown, when I started to question where we’ve gone wrong to create a world that is full of so much cruelty, horror, and unspeakable acts. I learned from a childhood friend, neighbor or a child who was lost, who spent the days protecting his neighbor’s and his town from the predatory journalists, armed only with a video camera and a caring heart.

Who would have thought the little blonde boy I used to babysit would grow up to be such a kind, caring man.

Who would have thought the little blonde boy I used to babysit would grow up to be such a kind, caring man.

The lessons continued with the passing of my father; the first time in my life that I really had to face the reality of our mortality, and let go of somebody I love.

Photo by Steve Kramer

Photo by Steve Kramer

Then I found myself in Hawaii, spending the holiday’s with my husband’s family. Despite the fact that I’ve spent many holidays with them, there’s always a certain amount of awkwardness in my time here. This year, that feeling was multiplied by the sadness I carried in my heart. I found myself trying to hide from:

  • the awkward reactions from people who did not know what to say to someone who just lost her father
  • the even more awkward reactions from people who simply didn’t say anything and avoided the topic all together.
  • Nathan’s father’s sometimes naive (although I believe unintentional) anti-Semitism
  • the overwhelming holiday spirit that I simply did not feel.
  • the somewhat hypocritical attitude of people who claim the virtues of living in paradise, but never really take advantage of the place they live in
  • a constant clash of cultures

As I’ve been experiencing all this, I slowly began to absorb the lessons that surround me. For example, paradise is only paradise if you take the time to appreciate its beauty.

Sunset at the luau.

Sunset at the luau.

You can find paradise on an island, but you can also find it everywhere. If you spend all your time complaining about traffic, or focusing on other things like work and money, it doesn’t matter what the sunset looks like or the weather feels like–because you won’t see it.

I’m learning that paradise is actually something you carry with you.

It can be found in the smiles of children, who learn that new friendships can be formed over the joy of hanging upside down.

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It can be found in the moments when we stop, relax, and simply enjoy the sun.

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It can be found in those moments where we run, dance, and fly.

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It can be found spending time with old friends.

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Paradise is the place where you stop and realize that the small moments, and the inexpensive pleasures filled with love and laughter are the ones that truly matter. My wish for all in the coming year is that you take a moment to stop and celebrate the life you have.

It’s simply too short not to enjoy with all the passion and love you carry inside.

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A palm with holiday lights.

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Dolphins know how to be joyous!

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Sometimes being different just makes life even more special.

Simple joys, like blowing bubbles and swimming through them, are the things that make life worth living.

 

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