Learning Is Life
I am the girl in the wheelchair who was valedictorian of her high school class — I am smart. I say this with no bragging, because everyone is smart in different ways. A person can be book smart, street smart, people smart, or even soul smart. An intelligence quotient is not the sum of a human being. There is more than one kind of intelligence because there is more than one kind of knowledge. Someone with a low IQ is capable of living a fulfilled, richly good and indestructibly happy life, while someone with a high IQ is capable of behaving stupidly or thinking foolishly, and of never knowing lasting joy.
We all have a lot to learn.
Learning begins before we can even breathe air. Brain waves are detectably waving at just forty days after conception, when a human is no bigger than a pea! We sense, experience, and learn as tiny embryos and fetuses, while our our eyes, ears, noses, and tongues develop, as our fingers and toes take shape. Newborn babies can immediately recognize the voices of their mothers because they had been learning and becoming familiar with Mother’s voice in utero. Newborns also recognize and prefer the lullabies that were sung to them when they were in the womb, because they had been learning the rhythms and cadences of songs while still hidden from the world.
Learning never stops.
An expert in any given field is only an expert because he is a student. Not just was a student, but is a student, continually learning about his chosen speciality. In fact, the moment that an expert rests upon his laurels of learning and stops asking questions, he ceases to be a consummate voice of knowledge on the matter. Teachers who fail to learn as they teach are the least inspiring of teachers, it’s as though they are teaching something that’s obsolete and irrelevant to real life, because to them it is. Every teacher is called to learning — present tense.
Every new experience stimulates a connection in the brain, it makes an impression on us. Even if you have done a task a hundred times previously, there will always be something slightly different about that task today. Whether it be a slight change in the environment (the person always near you looks unusually sad, the weather is exceptionally lovely) or a slight change in you (your hands are weaker or stronger, you are increasingly grateful for the seemingly mundane), something about the task is newly noticeable, something is learnable.
So I ask you, “What did you learn earlier today?” If your answer is “Nothing,” then you aren’t paying attention to the world around you, to the people near you — you aren’t observing your own life. Remember when your school teacher would take attendance in class? Your name would be called and you would need to respond “present” or “here.” Are you present now? Are you really here? Wake up, attend, be open, be fully alive — don’t be afraid to learn, because learning is life.
Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be open to you.” We should think about this passage of Sacred Scripture in terms of receiving the gift of faith and entering into the bliss of eternal life, and that means that we should also think about Jesus’s words in terms of living the fullness of our lives here and now. We ask, seek, and knock because we are students of Christ. (Did you know that “disciple” comes from the Latin word for student? If not, then you just learned something.) We are called to learn and live the ways of Christ, who is Divine Love in the flesh, because the greatest, most essential thing that we will ever learn is love: how to let God love us and how to love God, ourselves, and one another.
There are countless ways of loving, we can learn and experience new ones every moment of every day. Moments of annoyance or frustration are great opportunities to learn the invaluable virtues of forgiveness and patience, which make our hearts strong and lovingly generous. Moments of fear or agony provide education in courage and loving compassion. Even while we’re sleeping, our minds process, through dreams, what we’ve learned while awake. Dreaming first begins while our flesh is being knit together in our prenatal forming, before we can really “do” anything except grow and learn, experiencing divine love in wordless wonder.
This reflection comes when many children are already back to school and some are about to be. If you really think about it, then you realize that school is amazing. When I was a kid, the beginning of the school year was always an exciting time for me, both thrilling and terrifying. The logistics made me nervous and the people made me shy, but the learning always enticed and delighted me. Perhaps, my body was so stilled by my disease that my mind was extra active. I was too weak to reach out and grab with my hand, but I was never too weak to seek and find with my…my what? My mind, my brain, my intellect? My heart, my soul, my very being? I craved intellectual knowledge, yes, but what I truly, deeply desired was to know life fully, my life and life itself — what I truly, deeply desired was to live, fully alive.
What I learned many, many years after graduating from high school was that even the aspects of schooling that I didn’t like were learning opportunities. Being away from my caregiving parents, feeling awkward around my fellow students who all grew straight and tall, being less and less capable of doing things — these unpleasantries helped me to love. Through them I learned gratitude for the gifts I have, focus on the other, forgiveness of failings, and the truth of my strength. The greatest thing that I have ever learned, that I am learning now, that I ever will learn is how to divinely receive love and to divinely give myself in love. My everyday, every moment existence is my education, here in this big, wonderful, scary, and terribly beautiful classroom, which is the divinely loved and created world.
Knock with me, my fellow students. The door is open. We are here.
© 2019 Christina Chase
feature photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
raise your hand photo by Edwin Andrade “
young and old alike photo by William Krause “
reading photo by Aaron Burden “
wonder boy photo by Ben White “
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Thank you Christina! I was remarking only yesterday to my daughter that I am relieved not to be teaching ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Of Mice and Men’ to reluctant scholars YET AGAIN! Not texts I would offer to 16 year-olds who are probably feeling stressed by school and exams regardless of subject matter. But when the whole exploration of them is hobbled by the system, it’s so easy to be discouraged. And that’s the teacher; the student who expects to fail can be hard to encourage but ‘first you must love them’ as a missionary said to me. That can shine a crack of light beneath the door …
Thank YOU, and all teachers who have taken up thankless responsibilities year after year. I hope that, during your years of teaching, you had at least one student who was like me — who actually loved Of Mice and Men and the poetic language of Shakespeare. To entice reluctant teenagers, however, must be a tedious and discouraging task indeed. Some things are better read when we are older, and some people will never take up literature because they are called to something else.
“First you must love them” sounds like the best thing for all of us to learn before we interact with anyone! Through the compassion that you’re expressing for the stressed students, I can see love for them. The love is surely what makes the most important impression, not the words.
TALKING ABOUT WHAT WE HAVE
They’re gifts. Only and justly that,
These talents, inclinations, even circumstances,
each to be celebrated, though often we undervalue ours
Or maybe overvalue them.
They are not our own, we don’t own them,
Having only custody
So why not acknowledge where they came from
and praise these as blessings, ways to enrich,
spiritually first but alway humanly,
the lives and gifts of others..
* * * *
(Been out of words lately, but still a faith-full reader)
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P.S. It came to me, as I read “Learning Is Life,” that our gifts are rather like poems — best understood and appreciated if expressed aloud, from the heart, in and for a group; not kept inside, not saved from public misunderstandings or preserved for only a few.
Good teacher, you.
Two comments, two poems! I’m always glad and grateful when you reflect with me, Al. Your perspective inspires and teaches me too. I love your understanding that our gifts are like poems! And this: “They’re gifts…These talents, inclinations, even circumstances…why not acknowledge where they came from and praise these as blessings…not kept inside, not saved from public misunderstanding or preserved for only a few.”
You are, indeed, (don’t fight it), a gift. Thank you, God, and thank you, Al!
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Christina, this is a most beautiful reflection on learning and all its facets. My husband’s siblings were, almost all of them, educators. They loved their students to the extent that a sister who lived into her 90s still received notes at the holidays and on her birthday from some of her students. What an affirmation of her career as a teacher. I’m appreciative of your concept that we are “students of Christ.” Those words bring an entirely new level to my relationship with Christ. Thanks so much for all you’ve learned, what you are learning now, and what you help the rest of us learn.
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Wow, that just proves what an impact teachers can make on our lives!
Thank you for reflecting with me, my fellow classmate! 🙂