Last week, I set out on a short journey– needing a deep breath of fresh air, away from the weariness of everyday life. I needed a period of solitude from the voices always surrounding me– good, friendly voices though some be. I needed to hear new voices– the voices of distant family, of the towering redwoods, of the gentle river– and receive strength from them to return home to impending changes.
So I boarded a plane, opening up my ears to listen and my heart to accept whatever new voices would come my way. And, sure enough, the voices came along.
I met a bright, hopeful-hearted young woman. For an hour-long-flight, we conversed about faith. Disillusion by her faith, a little blinded and naive she seemed, speaking as if the world was black and white and questions were easily answered.
I arrived at my destination, and through a bus window watched the disillusioned, desolate, graffiti-pockmarked slums of Oakland, California. This world was definitely not black and white.
But, despite her slight, happy disillusionment, she was still a human. Every human is my teacher. And so I took her words to heart, added them to my journeyman’s satchel, and walked off the plane.
I met a woman whose beauty simply shone from the inside out. 70 years old, but with a beautiful heart and stunning face, framed by long, white hair. We connected at the heart level: my passion is for education and teaching, and she was in the education system for 35 years. She became my teacher. We complained, laughed, agreed, and conversed for almost two hours about teaching, children, growing plants, and creating things.
She told me stories. She gave advice. She rekindled waning embers in me– embers of excitement for pursuing a job in the teaching field. The lady of the white hair breathed inspiration into me. She instilled in me the courage to return home and diligently pursue my future direction. She told me to always stay in the trenches; no matter how high in leadership position I rose, never to forget the difficulties and needs and efforts of the people working at the lowest levels of the system– to “stay in the trenches” with them. She told me that teaching was a high calling. That, if I was meant to teach, I would know it, because I would keep loving it, but that I also must never give up. Former teacher to aspiring teacher, we spoke– and she became my teacher.
I met a beach-traveller– a tiny Asian woman, sheltered by a straw hat, walking the shores of the turquoise Pacific Ocean, filling plastic bags with driftwood and smooth stones. She edged close to the hissing spray of the waves, but never once let the waters touch her tiny tennis shoes. She watched the children playing nearby, and simply grinned in delight at each cry of laughter and surprise when their toes would touch the water. She sat nearby me, and we exchanged simple smiles as we both watched my younger siblings enjoying the ocean. I felt compelled to talk to her, but hesitant; after all, what if there was a language barrier between us? But my previous encounters had taught me that good things come from odd risks, so I sat down beside her. After all, what language barrier can prevent the exchange of a smile? And cannot a smile mean more than a thousand words?
Communicating through broken English, we exchanged stories of how we had journeyed there and why, discussed California, and exchanged names. Both of us horribly mispronounced the other’s name, I’m sure, but we gave it our best shot. I waved goodbye to her, tucked her delighted smile into my rock-filled pockets, and left the beach behind me. I treasured her and her smile as my teachers– which taught me to never underestimate the power of reaching beyond words to another human, and opening your heart just a crack to them. Thus the woman of the delighted smile became my teacher.
Every human I encounter is my teacher.
Thus, I will learn to observe people. I will learn to respect every human, listen to every human, ask questions of every human, and learn the identities of every human. We are all gifts to one another– fellow students and teachers, jumbled together in this crazy heap called Life. Let us always live with open eyes, open ears, and open hearts toward our everyday teachers.