I have learned humor from the bully,
Appreciative wonderment from the blind,
And wisdom from babes.
What are you meant to teach me?

—Melanie Tidwell

“Get out of my way pipsqueak!” was the greeting I received every morning as “Jackie” swung her muscular arm, like a bat meeting a ball spot-on, with the intent of getting a home run. And most mornings “Jackie” scored, as my body would slam into an unsuspecting locker, sounding a hollowed out, metallic alarm, followed by her menacing laugh. My 80-pound frame was no match for her brawny physique. Welcome to middle school. What was a skin-and-bones underling to do? Comedian and actor Robin Williams once said, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”  Ideas have always been easy for me to come by; however, converting those ideas into words is a bit more challenging. But if I was going to change MY world, I had to find a clever way to deal with my bully—otherwise, attending school was going to be like running the gauntlet, and avoiding “Jackie” was near to impossible.

I spent time contemplating my idea, preparing my approach, and praying I would have the courage to implement my plan. On the appointed day, rather than slinking and hiding, I sought “Jackie” out, and with what felt like bold stupidity, I walked right up to her and said, “Hi Jackie! So did you hear the one about the….” and I told her a joke. At first she had a puzzled look on her face as she processed the unexpected breech of bully protocol—unless you were part of her posse, you were to never approach “Jackie” first. I stood there silently stiff, waiting for the verdict. Then it happened… “Hey, that’s pretty funny Pipsqueak!” And instead of backhanding me, “Jackie” started shoving and arm punching her fellow mobsters, “Hey don’t ya think? That was funny!” she said as they moved in masse down the hall. That was the first of many successful interactions with “Jackie.” From that day forth, I became a fan of every joke book I could find in the school library! 

“Get your brother and meet me in the car. We’re going to the airport to pick up a blind Eskimo.” What?! It was 1978. We lived in the small town of  Durango, Colorado. Although I was in high school, I had rarely gone to the La Plata County Airport, located 12 miles southeast of town in the countryside where the population farm animals far exceeded that of humans. My dad, who was an instructor at Fort Lewis College, had been asked to pick up and mentor a student who had been born and raised in the native Inuit communities of Alaska. 

It wasn’t difficult picking him out from the rest of the passengers as they descended the ramp onto the tarmac. He was of small stature, with shiny black hair and eyebrows. He sported a sparse mustache and his dark eyes were in continual, side-to-side motion—as if he was tracking a ball during a tennis match played at triple speed. And of course, there was the white cane. He was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and jacket. Everything he brought with him was in a pack on his back. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember he was friendly and excited for this new adventure. His rapid-fire questioning saved us from any awkward silences. 

I assumed he was totally blind, but when we got him in the car he immediately pressed his face onto the window and watched intently as the scenery swiftly passed by. “What’s that? Is that a cow? I think I see a cow. Is that really a cow?” Confused at his excitement we confirmed what he saw was indeed a cow—actually herds of cows. “I can’t believe it! It really is a cow! This is amazing!” With my face contorted in unbelief, I asked,  “You have never seen a cow?” With genuine enthusiasm he exclaimed, “No this is my first time!” What an odd reaction to such a common and mundane scene—a scene that, in my young mind, did not deserve such enthusiasm. It didn’t occur to me had there been polar bears sauntering along side the road, or seals sunning themselves on rocks, or whales breeching the surface of the ocean, there would have been a distinct reaction reversal on my part! Forty years later, I better understand that living with appreciation is a super power; it can instantly transform what is common and mundane to awe-inspiring moments.

Talmage's graduation day from speech therapy

Talmage's graduation day from speech therapy

He sat…he looked…he sighed, and then he repeated the sequence a second time, and then a third. His name is Talmage. He was 3 years old at the time and I was his speech therapist. Set before him was a worksheet picturing items that ended with the final ‘k’ sound. I pointed to each image and with accurately spoken responses, Talmage earned parts to a game. Once he had all of the pieces in his possession, we would play the game together. It was the last word on the sheet—a rake. He sat…he looked…he sighed…and just as I was about to give him the answer, Talmage offered one that has remained with me ever since. In a nonchalant tone, he simply said, “Nothing.” Or as some would say, “I got nothin.” After I revealed the answer and explained what a rake was, we practiced saying the word together and I gave him the reward because, really, his answer was authentic and correct on many levels. There is no shame in admitting we don’t know something. We don’t need all of the answers to live a happy, productive life. Just because we don’t have an answer now, doesn’t mean it won’t be made known to us at a later date. I love the following quote from Dick Van Dyke,  “Just knowing you don't have the answers is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn—and those are all good things.”

These three vignettes from my life are just a small sampling of how EACH person who crosses my path has the potential to be my tEACHer. Isn’t it interesting the word tEACHer is a pregnant word (a pregnant word is a word within a word that provides additional meaning and depth to the original word) that confirms EACH one of us contributes to the learning of others? Eric Allen, a former professional American football player, is quoted as saying, “Everyone is my teacher. Some I seek. Some I subconsciously attract. Often I learn simply by observing others. Some may be completely unaware that I’m learning from them, yet I bow deeply in gratitude.” 

Whoever you are, thank you for being my tEACHer.

(Note: To learn more about tEACHers, see chapter 38, “Get Wisdom and Understanding,” in my book titled Sacred Soul-Space: Making Room in Your Life for What You Have to Offer This World.)