I am a teacher because I love to learn. I am a learner because I love to teach. Much of my life has revolved around this circular, reciprocal concept of growth and development. I come from a family of educators, but I’ve never stepped foot in the formal footwear of a teacher nor crossed a classroom to stand before thirty pairs of eyes with varying degrees of interest in who I am or what I have to say.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a teacher, that I don’t have the ability to grasp knowledge, process it, and pass it on to others in ways for them to perceive and conceive. Maybe that’s why I love metaphors so much, why I love art and music, poetry and writing, other cultures and life. Each of these things have the power to inform, the power to transform if we choose to be malleable.
Learning happens through the interaction of what is within with that which is without. That’s why I believe that all that is life and a part of life can serve as an educator as well as a platform for education. I have had incredible formal and informal teachers throughout life, but the one teacher that has been a constant for me is not a person but something abstract: observation.
When I was young, adults usually commented on how quiet I was. Paradoxically, I could also be a motor mouth, but I’d say that my general temperament bent towards a quiet observation and analysis of the world around me. And so I learned. Later in college, this willingness to observe earned me the high compliment from a friend that I was often pensive. Thinking is one of my favorite activities and I cherish the rich soil, fresh air, and sustaining rain that thinking gives. It has resulted in amazing understanding, realizations, connections, and experience. It has made my life richer, and hopefully I’ve made others’ lives richer because of the insights I’ve gained and shared.
In this season of life, having completed college plus a year of seminary, and having been in the workforce for fourteen years, my formal educators are largely of the past. But my faithful companion of observation still allows me to learn, and in turn to teach. There is a bit of a plateau post-college when it comes to learning, so I’ve had to look a little harder for sources of education. Friends, leaders, co-workers, books, community, and God all have been a part of my ongoing growth and education. And I can’t discredit that sometimes the smallest of things can be the largest of teachers.
I once had a world of realization through the simplicity of a quiet time at a summer camp spent sitting on the ground, when suddenly the interplay of water and light caught my eye in a drop of dew on a blade of grass. I must have studied that circle of colorful water for a good ten minutes, rocking subtly about so that the colors of the spectrum changed one from another. Back and forth I moved, small little movements, slowly to watch the gradual change from color to color, loving the in-between and the nuances. I’d never witnessed that beauty before, and so marveling at this quiet wonder I found myself contemplating the power of connection and experiencing God, my mind a palette upon which he poured various truths.
My multi-cat home season of life for the past three years has been a lot like that drop of water experience. My smallest of teachers have not stood before me imparting knowledge and wisdom from their mouths while I scribble furiously to help me remember and reference later. They are mute and incapable of the vehicle of words, but they have taught me much. Observing cats, who themselves are incredibly observant creatures, I have learned about them individually and collectively, and have drawn informative parallels between cats and humans.
I have learned about life and relationships and the profoundness of simplicity and being. I know more about myself because of them, the good as well as the bad. My heart has softened and expanded through watching and interacting with cats, and my capacity for compassion and joy has increased in a season of life which otherwise would have drained me. I know there is much more to learn from them, and sometimes I’m bursting to blog about it all at once. But the thing that I hope to learn best through them and because of them is to be a better steward of the two most precious things in life: love and lives.