Teachers are an important part of my life. Early on I learned to seek them out. Welcome them when they appear. Thank them for finding me. See the meaning in the experiences we share. Join me as I honor one of my teachers. See if I learn the lesson taught to me.
I sit here, fingers above keys, eyes on computer screen, reflecting on our just finished phone conversation. Your words, “I have Lewy Body Dementia”, freeze me in place. My hands cannot move. I cannot summon the strength to make my fingers type the words I must to say to you that I do not want to read.
Palms sweating, images of you race through my head. There is the gentle, respectful manner in which you interact with people. The ways you listen, hear, and intuit. How your personal explorations become courses through which participants courageously dig deep into their psyches, surface unresolved issues, and then seek resolution. There are images of you sailing your boat on Big Creek, hands in clay sculpting in the studio, sipping wine with friends, and munching cookies with Beth. A wry smile is on your face and a twinkle is in your eye as you do each.
The images make me think about the constancy of our relationship. How over 40-years we are rarely together, yet constantly in touch. How one week our conversation is about the meaning of life, the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the bottle of pinot grigio you drank last night. Then the next week we focus on recently read books, the state of public education, and your newest favorite flavor of ice cream. Sometimes, in person we delve into matters of the heart, share dreams and aspirations, and troubleshoot issues, as we did while riding through upstate New York, hiking in Colorado, or visiting museums in Washington DC.
Regardless of topic or location, we bring our best selves to each other. Refusing to squelch feelings. Never do we disparage other people. Always owning our words—no bullshit, no spin. We share, listen, explore. As we do, I grow. You, I think, grow too. Our bond deepens.
You are my best friend. The older brother, I always wanted but never had. The confidante I need. The advocate I must have. Yet, while each of the roles you play means the world to me, they pale in significance to the role you play as my teacher
With you as my teacher, I chart and navigate the course of my life. Challenging myself to think deeply about issues immense, and small. Viewing people and things through respectful eyes. Digging deep to be the person I want to be. Always commenting about the present, not the past or future.
The experiences we share help me to actualize my self. They stimulate my mind through the topical workshops and courses you facilitate—human relations, humor, wellness, creative problem solving, achievement motivation, and so on. You soften my heart through the experiential manner you utilize to engage me with the material you teach. How you prepare me to facilitate those very same courses helps me take charge of my own learning. The way, when I facilitate a course, I internalize what I learn from you.
Over the years, in every interaction we have, whether course, call, or face-to-face you are present, truly present. You treat me with respect. At first I do not know what to make of this, but over time I come to understand that you are being in the moment. You are living courageously. As you do, you show me how to live.
Nothing you showed me prepares me for the phone call, and the gut-wrenching feeling of the moment. My core is shaken. I want you as my strong and capable teacher, a never-ending source of love and support, not a weakened and lifeless soul. I want more phone chats, visits, and camaraderie. I want more lessons. I do not want to give you up.
I remember you saying, “Joy is part of our lives, as is pain. Living courageously involves acknowledging both.” In my heart of hearts, the place you always tell me to go, I know that even though I may want to hold on to our joys, being here, now, in this moment demands that I go into my pain. There I must accept the impermanence of life. Realize there will never be an easy time to part. I must carry on without you. As I do, I will demonstrate what I learned. Typing the words I do not want to read is the first step. Here goes.
Jim, please teach how me how to die with the dignity, courage, and respect that you have lived. Make this my final lesson. I promise to learn it well.
Your loving student,
Note: This is the 1st post in the My Teachers series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.