“When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.” This old Buddhist saying is as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago. It is certainly the main source of my learning. For the people around me teach me the most – not when they want to, not when I want them to, but at that magic moment when openness, understanding and lesson come together creating new understanding.
I’m certain many of my teachers stood by frustrated and feeling helpless as the lesson flew over my head like an arrow missing the target. Some arrows of learning did hit, over and over and over again, but they bounced off without sticking. My bull’s-eye remained unsullied – and I unwilling or unable to take in and understand.
But the teachers did come and from them I gained much knowledge. The first I credit, is my mother. She passed on her imagination, modelled through life, and offered up as a fanciful way of learning. without limitations, my imagination created a world in which adventure shoved me towards new ideas, new approaches and new understanding.
My second learning tool is books. From other writers I learned how to rock climb, what a bazaar in Jakarta smells like, how to perform a tracheotomy. But the lessons went deeper. From Jane Austen I learned don’t judge. Kahil Gibran taught me, “Accept your truth.” Gary Zukov demonstrates risk pays big dividends. Eckart Tolle, live in the now.
Nature has been a wonderful instructor, winning my heart, mind and spirit with its first touch. I find the fearsome, awesome and mysterious amongst her many treasures. I am alive, each cell sparked with energy when I experience these powers. Nature teaches the necessity of balance – just as water can buoy me up, its immense power can submerge me. A sunset bleeding crimson across the sky delights my eyes while piercing my heart with sorrow. Tranquility/rage, healing/destruction all the opposing forces found in nature, must be learned, minded and respected.
From women I’ve ingested an encyclopedia. Shared feelings, philosophies and every day occurrences give me self awareness, and a sense of being part of the whole. Through discussions on the minutiae of life, I see others go through the same tests and triumphs. I accept who I am and why I am, supported by their openness. My women friends give me – me.
Dark times like the death of my father when I was sixteen, and many years of fighting Crohns encouraged me to grab at life. There might not be a later. I’ve kayaked rivers, lakes and oceans, tandem parasailed, and down-hill skied every mountain I can reach. I’ve camped alone in the wilderness, zip-lined across the country, been deck-hand on a sailboat, co-piloted a plane, and co-authored a book – grasping knowledge with each experience.
Thinking back over the short life my father lived, I gain invaluable understanding from his example. Know what you want, reach for your dreams with both hands, embrace the results, believing the transformative power within makes all things possible. I Wonder, what lesson is waiting for you?
When I look back over decades of my life, I discover my greatest treasure trove of learning comes from the experience of having Crohn’s disease. An old adage often voiced states, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I believe this; and also that it makes you wiser.
The first lesson I learned from Crohns was how to deal with pain. This lesson slapped me up the side of my head for many years before I ‘got it’. In accepting pain as a given in my life, I lessened its importance, and thus reduced its impact.
While coping with the disease, I reached a deeper level of empathy. When my husband pushed me down the hospital corridor in a wheelchair because I was too weak to walk, we passed a diabetic woman who had no legs. At one point, I was attached to so many machines, tubes and drains that movement was out of the question, yet, in the next room the nurses unhooked machines from a patient who couldn’t be saved. Crohns put me in the hospital, where I learned compassion and gratitude.
I was 29 when I was diagnosed, and at that time, I ran my life like a balance sheet for giving and receiving. It was okay for me to give more than anyone gave me, but I must never run a deficit. My lengthy illness made caring for my family or myself impossible at times. I became a ‘taker’ on a large scale. This caused me considerable stress until the epiphany that in accepting someone else’s gift I gave them back a gift. I provided the opportunity for their act of generosity—so they could reach beyond their own problems and feel good. I learned that instead of saying, “you shouldn’t have” or “It wasn’t necessary”, I could ennoble their gift. I could wrap my appreciation up in the bow of sincere words like, “The energy you saved me by bringing dinner let me play with my children for an hour. Thank you.”
I concluded early if I couldn’t walk in someone’s moccasins, I could at least try them on. I gained a new respect for all hospital employees. In the long waits for test, I practiced patience. In coping with the mistakes of doctors and nurses I acquired tolerance. And I came to see I didn’t improve a situation by being negative, complaining or whining. Crohn’s forced me to grow up. (A caveat here. I admit my inner child still shows up to pout and stomp verbally.)
I can testify some people really do keep marriage vows and follow their spouse into hell. Though he often teased my mother with, “if I knew she was in this bad of shape I’d have bought a warranty,” my husband suffered terribly, as men do, who feel helpless. Yet, he stayed through sickness as well as health.
Crohns also introduced me to a few new philosophies and strengthened some beliefs I already held. I received the proverbial second chance at life and learned each moment is precious – not to be sullied or wasted.
I proved to myself over years of hospitalization and experimenting with wellness that humans are potentially self-healing by design. So, I must create the balance of mind, body, spirit that induces healing.
Out of every difficult situation comes good and I recognize the benefits at some point during or following my travail. Just as the difficulty encompass many people, so does the good – often it is a blessing with immeasurable results. For example, the changes in our family life, because of my illness, molded our children into strong, independent, adults.
I learned “man really is an island”. Granted I could reach across the water surrounding me for help and often even hold the hand extended, but bottom line is you make the hard choice alone. “Yes, I’ll have the surgery.” or “No I won’t allow you to give me that treatment.” Only I could throw the dice of life and death.
With these beliefs as an intellectual springboard, I created the lifestyle that best allows me to honor them. We built our home by the river. I do the work I love. I actively seek the solitude and quiet I know will keep me in balance.
Crohn’s disease appeared like a terrorist, inducing fear. In fighting the fear with love, I grew and flourished—body, mind and spirit. I broke free of its cruel death grip with a will to survive that amazes me to this day. Occasionally, my illness attacks again, and I struggle against it. But I do so now with deliberation rather than rage; because I am certain this fierce combatant still has more to teach me.
At a time when I’ve become more dependent on technology than ever, I lost my Wi-Fi for three days. As emails piled up, and deadlines loomed, I sought patience, juggled my to do list, found other ways to communicate and shuffled along as best I could. Others were just as inconvenienced. Across from me lives a woman who works fulltime out of her home – and couldn’t get on the Internet. A man, I know trades on the stock market daily and would lose thousands of dollars if he needed to sell and couldn’t connect.
Technology has brought us so far at the detriment of so much. Computers will make paper obsolete experts declared. Yet, I remember when I shopped and the clerk would ring up my sales on a cash register, take my money and give me a six-inch strip of paper. Now I wait while they print off a sales invoice, staple it to a receipt, that has a back up receipt attached, and possibly a gift receipt. Scads of paper are handed over along with my purchase. Recent statistics show the sell of books has increased and demand for e-books decreased.
I’ve moved from writing on a typewriter, where the biggest problem would be having to retype a page, to working on a PC. I am a victim of kidnapped chapters, murdered files, and updates that beat up my programs. I will never learn to fix these things myself, because the workings of a computer form the threshold of my total lack of interest. I expect my PC, like my eggbeater will do its assigned task. Thus, I’ve spent a fortune on tech assistance over the years.
Yet, technology, when it works gives me an ease, which I cannot replace. The speed of typing a manuscript into my laptop, knowing I can copy it, move it, share it, store it, and get it back, all with just a few strokes of the keys, is something I will not give up.
Using a computer for work is like having a gambling addiction. I keep going back, regardless of the risk. Will this be the time I lose it all? I wager that I can deliver, never knowing from one second to the next if my software fails, my hardware breaks, or Internet service will go down. Knowing this I still step up to the table and throw the dice.
I guess I should consider myself lucky I am such a small target it’s unlikely I’ll be hacked. I watch the big corporations facing ransom hackers and realize there is yet another player in the game. I can’t see a future when we ever have a sense of full security and safety. I have a vision of the plastic sleeve holding photos, folded like an accordion, we would take from our purses and flip open for any viewer (interested or not!) and compare it with the lengthy list of passwords we must keep near. Most of us don’t try and end up storing them in some easily identifiable file – a courtesy to any hacker attempting entrance. I have a phobia about having my identity stolen, believe my phone and laptop are spying on me, and can’t imagine giving my house over to an artificial intelligence that can inventory my fridge, decide what I will want to eat next week, shop for me online, then pay the store with my financial information. Or, God forbid, let an AI like Alexa control my home and have access to my bank account.
I realize my age is showing because thousands of millennials take these services for granted. They run their lives through the software on their phones, downloading apps that operate every aspect of their day, from making their coffee to shutting down the house at night. We worried about the crash of technology on the centennial. We are so much more vulnerable now. I wonder how our younger generations would survive being unplugged. I know I’ll go on strong with or without connectivity.
My husband and I in a combined lack of wisdom – or maybe a Covid haze, just built a grow box. I believe we were initially motivated by rumours there would be a scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables in the grocery stores, as border closings would mean less truckers and farm workers. We have a big yard and for the past three years have been reducing the amount of labour required with choices like less pots (for me) and a riding lawnmower for my husband. Men can always find a power tool for their pleasure! So, I shake my head in confusion. Why did we take on another project?
My husband built the box over several days of hard work. We chose the back end of the Japanese garden for its location – out of sight of the rest of the yard, surrounded on two sides by fence, one by the back of the shed, and sitting on pea gravel for neatness. When I viewed the finished project, I gasped at the size. Huge! He assured me he’d used the exact measurements given him. So, together we lined it with plastic. Smiling smugly at each other, we discussed the next step. Our smiles slid off our faces as we acknowledged our second bad choice. Instructions were ‘fill the grow box with four inches of river rock and gravel, then topsoil’. We looked around our tidy, enclosed space and realized we had no way of accessing the box other than on foot. Everything going into this wonderful, raised garden must be carried in by pail. We laughed at our idiocy.
My husband did the river rock on his own, together we hauled in the gravel. The next day I shovelled the box of a half ton truck full of soil into two pails, while he carried alternate pails, trip after trip. I worried about his weakening legs. He expressed concern for the tendinitis in my arm. Every eight pails full we stopped to relieve the muscle spasms in our lower backs and chat. The sun shone, the air had a lovely damp earth smell, harmony reigned.
I looked like a bent hag as I hobbled around the kitchen making supper for my hard-working guy. I so admired his perseverance, and the multitude of skills that had gone into designing and building the box. The next morning, he shuffled stiffly as he brought me a cup of tea, telling me he appreciated that I’d sacrificed my kayak arm to help him by shovelling. As we hugged – an excuse to rub each other’s back – he insisted he’d finish alone while I rested. When I questioned his jumping up and down into the truck, he said he’d build a ramp. With visions of him crashing onto the sidewalk, I insisted I’d shovel. Together we finished the job. His mother always said, “It doesn’t take long if there’s two of us.”
Together we stood by our box appreciating our work. As we levelled the rich soil our hands touched, and our thoughts meshed. We grinned with satisfaction at what we’d accomplished together – planning, building, filling and hopefully growing something in our grow box. We relaxed in our double glider in the Japanese garden and felt peace settle around us. The grow box is a permanent fixture, we agreed, at no time will we put the energy into emptying it.
I think of the great lumbering thing with affection. If we’re lucky (neither of us is a gardener) we might get a crop of veggies in the fall. However, the big take away is our garden has already produced a bounty of kindness, mutual respect, appreciation, and love.