The other day I mentally took inventory of the most important people in my life. Strangely enough, Ben & Jerry did not quite make the short list. They were close, but had to be cut in order to make room for all the Glens and Bens in my whisky cabinet.
Some of these folks would be surprised to know that they’re on my list—like Leonard, the weary technician who repeatedly shows up at the door to fix my defunct internet service.
Or Jimmy, the eighty eight-year old Baptist preacher who sits on a bench outside my tiny, local gas station, intent upon connecting with his flock or passing strays with nothing more than a broad, toothless grin and an embracing hello. And then there’s the sourpuss-faced librarian who I greet two or three times a week. I am determined to see her smile at least once before I die, and I’m guessing the only way that will happen is if I purchase her a pair of shoes that are two sizes larger than the ones she’s currently wearing.
The interesting thing I discovered while thumbing through the short list was that nearly everyone on it was a teacher.
The teachers I have had could be divided even further into subcategories: the good, the bad, and the under investigation. It has been said that kids cannot learn from teachers they don’t like—that one would realize a far better outcome for a student if they highlighted the three correctly answered quiz questions out of twenty rather than stapling a fast food restaurant application to the top page.
If I were to take a hard, calculating look around and behind me, from the present moment back to my first flash of sentient thought, I bet I could easily say that I have spent most of my life swimming in a pool of teachers. In fact, I believe we could all say that, because we have lessons to learn from every person we interact with—if you look deeply enough.
The lessons are constant and subtle, or intermittently gargantuan, but they are present whether we recognize them or not, and ride in on the coattails of folks we might never have considered to be those in charge of our lives’ direction.
My yoga teacher, whose classes I’ve attended twice a week for the last decade, has become my personal Jiminy Cricket—her voice, a constant presence of gentle encouragement and sage advice. Because of her, I listen to the obvious: what my body can and cannot do, what my body should and should not do, and also the blatant reminder that yoga is not a competitive sport.
One Hollywood music producer brought into sharp focus two things I would never forget: 1) I am quite agile at dashing around furniture in order to stay away from groping hands, and 2) a well-placed kick can do wonders for sending the message Back off, Buddy, but sucks for career advancement.
The small bewhiskered feline I have been placed in charge of enlightens me daily with the knowledge that sitting still does not necessarily equate with being still, and that the magic of sensory perception will blossom if you practice distilling life down to the minute and overlooked. She has also illuminated the fact that my reflexes suck, and that unless I am approaching her with food, I had best do a one eighty and rethink the value of ungrazed flesh.
I have had music instructors who have encouraged me, following a performance, with their assessment that I played all of the notes and some even in the right places, and others who have sat back laughing, and then after wiping away the tears in their eyes said, “Okay, play it for real now.”
I have had teachers who unintentionally cut me to the quick with nothing more than their desire to help. Like the time I received a graded English assignment, still wet with its shellacking of red ink, and a note at the top that said, SEE ME, which I interpreted to be a disapproving nod toward my undeserved confidence with the previous day’s lesson. Consequently, I slunk into the background and never really internalized the rule of It’s I before E except after C …
I have even learned some of life’s greatest lessons from the string attached to my tea bags, where dangling from the end is a tiny truism worth remembering:
Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.
You cannot get to the top by sitting on your bottom.
The problem with the gene pool is there’s no lifeguard.
We’re all in need of instruction. And finding a good coach to guide you through life is a gift we may not recognize we possessed until after we’ve had our ‘aha’ moment.
Our teachers are there to build up our skills, to broaden our mindset, and to prepare us for the future as it unfolds before us. On the flipside, the old definition is also true: a teacher is simply a person who helps you solve problems you’d never have without them.
But for now, I shall leave you with my favorite life lesson from my pilot instructor of long ago. He quoted Douglas Adams, and said the words applied to nearly everything: Flying is learning how to throw yourself to the ground—and miss.
Now edge on out there to the end of the branch, safe with a parachute holding all your life’s lessons, and leap.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.
- It Takes a Mentor (http://www.nytimes.com)
- Building Better Teachers (http://www.theatlantic.com)
- How to Be a Great Mentor (http://forbes.com)