I can still vividly remember my first day of school. I was six and a little scared, but I was wide-eyed and eager as I tightly clutched my new black notebook along with a small, yellow, zippered pouch filled with sharpened number two pencils. I found an empty seat in a wobbly wooden desk as far back from the front of the room as I could get. I don’t recall my teachers name, but she was young, pretty, full of enthusiasm, and ready to start filling my mind with lessons in math, geography, history, and reading and writing.
Through elementary school, high school and college I had hundreds of teachers who’s sole purpose was to teach me lessons, and pass on their knowledge to me. I loved to learn new things, and was like a sponge as I absorbed new and exciting concepts. As we grow, we always seem to have someone teaching us lessons. Many of us had coaches who taught us sports. We may have had dance, swimming, or piano lessons. We also had our parents who gave us many invaluable lessons on life which we still use today, and try to pass on to our children.
I smile when I think of some of the classic lines that all mothers use at one time or another to teach life’s lessons, and keep their children safe, and on the right path. I’m sure my mom used a few of these.
—–Don’t run with scissors.
—–Look both ways before you cross the street.
—–Put that down; you’re going to poke your eye out.
—–Eat your vegetables or you’re going to stunt your growth.
—–Don’t talk to strangers, or they’ll snatch you up, and no one will ever see you again.
—–Don’t make a silly face or it will get stuck like that forever.
—–Don’t go out with wet hair or you’ll catch a cold.
—–Always leave the house with clean underwear.You may end up in an accident.
—–Don’t swallow those watermelon seeds. If you do, you’ll end up having one grow in your stomach.
—–Be sure not to swallow your gum. If you do you’ll clog up your insides and won’t be able to go to the bathroom.
“The person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn’t, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was getting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn’t ever going to grow dim or doubtful.” —–Tom Sawyer Abroad
The words above are some of my favorites from Mark Twain. It is especially meaningful for me, because when I was six years old I found a stray cat, decided to take him home, was having trouble getting a grip on him, and attempted to carry him by his tail. That hot summer day, many years ago, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me my entire life. Mark Twain was right when he said that the knowledge I gained will never grow dim or doubtful. I also realize now that the cat was like many other things in life. Like holding a cat by the tail, many valuable lessons can only be learned from the act of actually doing something, and experiencing the consequences. I still have a small scar on my right index finger to remind me that cats don’t like to be held by their tails.
The amazing thing about life is that from the moment we enter this world with a deep breath of air and a piercing cry, until we take our last labored breath we are constantly learning lessons. As babies we learn to cry when we are wet, hungry, lonely, or maybe just need the warmth and comfort of our mothers. As we grow we learn what is good and what is bad. What is pleasant and what hurts. Most of us learn pretty quickly about hot stoves, poison ivy, bees, or in my case to be careful with stray animals.
I’ve also come to realize that there are two types of lessons all of us receive. There are the lessons we receive from others, and there are those lessons which can only be acquired through living. Sometimes the best lessons we receive and the ones we remember the most are those we get from a lifetime of personal experiences. Sometimes we get lessons from others, but we don’t take them seriously until we actually experience them ourselves. We all know that many of life’s lessons are sometimes harsh and painful. All of us at one time or another may face disease, accidents, job losses, disasters, injuries, illness, or possibly the loss of loved ones. Each experience may hurt, but they will inevitably teach us lessons.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that every single moment of our lives is an opportunity to learn lessons. The questions we have to ask each other are; Will I take advantage of the opportunities to learn? Will I choose to learn from everything around me? Will I open up my eyes and see the lessons right in front of me? Will I be a good student? I think that this last question is the most important. When we were in school the best students were the ones who not only studied, but took their lessons seriously, gave their best effort, loved to learn, and most importantly, listened. We have so many opportunities every day to learn lessons from people, animals, things, and situations, but often pass them by without a glance. We think that they are so small and insignificant and aren’t worth our valuable time. We are often so busy surviving in a tough world that we sometimes forget that the greatest lessons are learned from the simplest things.
If you go back to one of my old posts, you can see a story I wrote, called “The Chase.” In the story I wrote about my belief that many of life’s greatest lessons are taught by God’s simplest creatures. The story revolves around my dog, Chase, who over the past few years has taught me many lessons. In the story he teaches me about how I’ve spent so much time and effort chasing things, that I haven’t stopped to smell the roses along the way, and really found true happiness. He continues, each and every day to teach me new things. I need to just keep paying attention, and continue to open my eyes to new lessons. Take a look at the pictures below, and think of some of the lessons you can learn ever day.
One of my favorite things to do is sit on my deck on cool, clear Autumn nights and stare up into the vastness, complexity and beauty of the universe, which stretches to infinity. I was always told that a good student learns not only from listening, but by thinking, and asking questions. Whenever I gaze out into the cosmos, I learn humility with the thought of how small and inconsequential I am in all that is. I also realize that I am also special, unique, precious, and an integral piece to the puzzle we call life.
I learned years ago after the birth of my son that we can learn so much from one of the simplest acts. All you have to do is hold a baby in your arms. Before I had my son I always wondered what the big deal was. Why did expectant mothers look so happy and glowing? Why did the couples seem so happy as they prepared for, and anticipated the birth of their child? Try it sometime. It may not even be your birth child. You may be an adoptive, foster, or step-parent. It really doesn’t matter. They are still your child, and you love them. They are so small and fragile, but they will grow, learn, and become something good that you have been a part of. A baby has the ability to teach us to be gentle, patient and loving.
“But for the grace of God go I.”
Sometimes when I see a homeless person I am reminded how true this statement is. My own life has been filled with trials and tribulations. I often wonder if I might have suffered a similar fate, but for God’s mercy. There are so many lessons to learn from those less fortunate than us. We can learn understanding, humility, gratitude, and compassion. We also have many opportunities to learn to love, give of ourselves, and show kindness.
Part of living is the realization that some of the lessons we learn are painful. I’m sure that both of these people pictured above, even amid all the fear, pain, despair, and devastation are learning lessons. We all need to learn that we are not alone. There are so many good people willing to help. We should also learn that there is always hope, and that things do get better. Often under such trying situations many of us learn that we have gifts we didn’t know we had. Inside us may be the will and strength to help us survive, rebuild, and move forward.
Some of the simplest yet greatest lessons can be learned by reaching out to others. It could be a gentle embrace to comfort someone. It could be a reassuring hand on a shoulder, a touch on the wrist, a kiss on the check, or the simple act of reaching out to grasp and hold someones hand.
I think we should all start each and every day fresh, with an open mind. We should spend every single moment looking around us at the world with the awe and wonder that we had as children. We should take nothing for granted. As I said before; even the smallest, seemingly insignificant things can teach us valuable lessons. Hopefully we will learn our lessons well, and find the answers we are looking for. If we leave this world having learned that we are not alone, that life does have meaning and purpose, that life is a journey, not a race, that it’s important to do the best we can with an open heart, and that love is what really matters; then I guess we have been pretty good students after all.