About every six weeks I like to stop at a McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin. There I said it, I confess. It’s one of the VERY FEW fast food things I enjoy. I have to take half the English Muffin off, otherwise it’s just too much bread, but in the nutrition scheme of things, it’s not too bad, although high in sodium, it is also high in protein. This past Sunday was my day to indulge while I hit the road for a 3-hour drive in the early morning hours.
I mindlessly pulled into the drive-thru, ordered my breakfast and made my way to window number one to pay. The disembodied voice at the ordering box informed it would be $2.72. I pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and fished 2 pennies out of the little holder in the dashboard. I did all this fairly mindlessly, meaning, it’s something we have all done many, many times, so I didn’t think it required much on my part to complete my little breakfast treat transaction.
I pulled up to the first window to pay and a young man smiled, said good morning and held out his hand for my money. I handed him my ten-dollar bill, and before I could give him the 2 pennies, he was already punching $10.00 into his cash register and looking to see how much change to give me. I asked him to wait a minute because I had the 2 pennies, and an instantaneous look of panic swept across his face.
It took a minute for it to register with me why he would be worried. Then my brain finally kicked in – autopilot no more. My 2 pennies stumped him. I watched him take out a pencil and piece of paper, scribble a few things, then look at the register several times. Back to his paper and pencil, and of course he looked at the 2 pennies in his hand multiple times – probably hoping that if he looked at them often enough they would go away because it was too early for doing heavy math! Eventually he handed me back $7.25.
I didn’t know whether to be annoyed, dumbfounded or heartbroken. I debated for a second on whether or not to ask for the nickel I was still owed. When I did let him know he owed me 5 cents, he again had a bit of a panicked look, which quickly turned to resignation, as he opened his drawer and gave me a nickel.
Annoyed, dumbfounded, heartbroken… The first place I stopped inside myself was on being annoyed… annoyed at him for not being able to do simple math in order to make change, annoyed at an educational system and parents that allowed him to get to this place in his life, annoyed at McDonald’s for hiring someone and not properly training him, and of course annoyed at myself for even being annoyed. Sometimes I am so annoying.
Then the next internal stop was feeling dumbfounded, for pretty much the same reasons. But with an experience of being dumbfounded, I am able to take on the position of being a witness. From a witness perspective there’s little, if any, charge in emotion. I am able to be curious, remain present and wide open in order to look more deeply into what’s happening inside and outside myself. I can look at this from many perspectives. Being curious is a much more productive place to be than being annoyed.
Then comes the heartbroken feeling. A universal sadness washed over me because I knew that helpless feeling. I knew that feeling of wondering how to not only survive, but succeed if I can’t make change! I could imagine what a frightening place it was to be – that existential wondering. Was I equipped for this world? Did I fit in anywhere, and what was I going to do with my life? Did this young man even have an inkling that there are infinite possibilities open to him, even though he couldn’t make change? I don’t know. I realize these may be my own projections, but I can’t help but think, based on his terror-stricken face, that he wonders in his own way too.
The longer I drove the more I disappeared into that 6-minute experience as a microcosm for the macrocosm my place in the world, my own belonging, and the unforeseen contributions we each make to this universe. I knew I couldn’t change anything for him right then, nor could I really impact the educational system, or do anything about all the crappy parents out there.
BUT, what I could do was take care of my own corner of the world. It’s not a big corner, but it’s an important one. We all live on a corner, some are busier than others, yet it’s the place we each reside, where we each connect with the rest of the world. It’s the place where the echoes of who I am emanate – rippling out into the universe.
And the first echo always begins within. If I couldn’t do anything about what is being taught in schools, or how, or if, we are equipping children, then what is mine to do? I immediately thought of Parker Palmer who said, “What will transform education is not another theory or another book or another formula, but a transformed way of being in the world – a life illuminated by spirit and infused with soul.” THAT I could wrap my hands around. THAT I could do in my everyday life – I can change how I am being in the world.
Earlier this year I sat in a retreat and on the opening night we were asked to reflect on what we would like to get from the retreat, what would it look like, feel like and taste like if we got our hearts desire, hoped for the unimaginable. This is what came to me:
It would smell like the beach, it would sound like the wind that blows through me at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I would be marinated in belonging. It would taste like fresh raspberry juice flowing across my tongue, signaling the arrival of exquisite comfort, and the sweetness of being seen. Transcendence would be yours, mine and ours, through the simple silent touch of empathy.
So that is my question I pose to myself, and anyone passing by my corner. What would it taste like, feel like and look like – that transformed way of being? While I may not be a “teacher” per se, there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not in the role of educating myself or another. The word “educate” comes from the Latin educare, which means to “draw out.” Isn’t that what we do with each other? Draw out that which needs healing? Draw out the fullness of their light, love and wisdom? That bright light so many of us don’t even realize is there? Isn’t that why we have BFFs?
Some of the biggest problems facing the world – war, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and environmental degradation – are essentially system failures. They can’t be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others. Is this no less true for the well-being and growth of our own bodies, minds and spirits? All I can do is fix the system at home, in my own backyard – or should I say “my corner.”
Here’s my request to help you discover what hope tastes like… Park an easy chair or recliner on your corner, and while you watch the world go by, invite a few folks to join you in this journey of learning to live “a life illuminated by spirit and infused with soul.” Try these conversation starters, or make up your own.
- Often, in the face of conflict small moments of love, kindness and compassion give us hope. Share that story and describe what the hope looks like, feels like and tastes like. Now take the perspective of the other person you were in conflict with. What does that look like, feel like and taste like?
- Do you know what you most highly value? How do you embody your values?
- Have you taken a different perspective today with someone you don’t agree with around political or religious beliefs?
- How do you spend your time learning new things? Is there a balance between learning by yourself and learning with others?
- Look around your home. What is the light like? What materials make up your furniture and decorations? Are there living things like plants? Can you see the outside world from inside?
- Is your corner of the world warm and inviting? Have you created a place of beauty for others to commune with you? Are there distracting sights or sounds? How do feel about even inviting others into your space?
- What does it mean to live “a life illuminated by spirit and infused with soul?”
- How do allow your friends, family members or colleagues to support you in living that illuminated life? Are you engaged as the student and the teacher?
Whether you accept the idea of being a “teacher” or not, your presence in this world is in fact just that. We teach through our words, emotions and our actions. So let me leave you with these questions as homework. What self-respecting teacher would do anything less?