Teachers in Our Lives

In a movie I recently watched, one of the actors stated “When God wants me to learn something, he sends me a teacher.” My first reaction was to dismiss the comment as just a cliché from a religious person, but the words kept coming back to me, over and over again. Then, slowly over time, I began to accept that the teachers in our lives have always been those to whom we listen or constructively observe, and not necessarily as an intentional act of learning. Always.

We think of teachers as those who stand in front of a classroom or otherwise perform in an official capacity to educate, but I offer that the aspects of our lives that give us meaning and substance as individuals are usually learned from those whom we do not associate as being teachers, often when we are not even aware. Further, we only recognize these teachers and their lessons when we are at a point in life where we realize and accept that we need to reassess some aspect of our lives; our learning doesn’t begin until we first accept that a vacuum exists. Always.

Consider the classroom. Although the teacher is a vital element, teachers will tell you that the students must first recognize the importance of the undertaking. That preparedness to learn comes from outside the classroom, from the other “teachers” in the child’s world. The child who excels has a sense of self-worth, an awareness that participating in class will enhance the child’s life experiences. We see this; we have always seen this, but may fail to realize that this, in itself, is a teaching experience: before we learn, we must first accept the need to learn.

To get back now to that earlier statement, “When God wants me to learn something, he sends me a teacher.” Such a statement applies to life experiences as I see it, not to the classroom. Does God sometimes initiate this learning? Is God always involved? Or is God not a part of this at all? Those three questions are above my pay grade; what I do know is that I must realize and accept that a change is needed, that there is some part of my life that needs to improve. Only then will I learn and grow. My belief is that this comes from within, from having taken ownership of my life; my concern is in how I react and not how the teaching originated.

Last week, while shopping in our local grocery store with my wife, I noticed a woman pushing her cart hurriedly down the aisle. Her hair was frizzy and dyed an unnatural black, her makeup was overdone, and her face seemed anxious. This seemed a woman to avoid, a person not to my liking. Later, when in the checkout line, I noticed her behind me in the line. Was this coincidence or was it fate? On seeing her, I immediately pondered that question. Did it matter? I don’t know; she was there.

Within a moment or two, she initiated a conversation with my wife and me, nothing much, just comments on life, the temporary absence of snow, the bright sun and the prospect of a lovely day. As soon as she spoke, I knew she was a teacher for me. This I could feel in my heart. As she talked and laughed, I noticed her hair was no longer frizzy, her makeup was normal, and her face full of smiles — smiles for us. I have long known that one of my failings is a tendency to be judgmental towards others; the more she talked the more I listened to the lesson to me from this teacher. She may have left the store and forgotten all about our casual encounter; I did not.

That teaching moment remained for days with me, primarily because I was aware of the encounter; I could tell that this woman was a teacher and the lesson to me was obvious. There are other teachers, the ones we don’t recognize, yet they are there. These teachers come through our lives and we change, but often without our knowledge. Our only influence on who they are is to follow what our parents taught us: “You will be known by the people with whom you associate.” Personally, I think some of our best teachers are family. If we but listen, there is much to learn from those we love: sons, daughters, spouses. Age is no variable here; we learn most from those we love.

The question that I ask myself (and suggest the same to others) is this: Am I a teacher and, if so, would I be proud of what people learn from me? The answer to that question defines who we are and how our name will live on after our short life.