I know. This Random Thought is so quick upon the one I sent out Saturday. But, it suddenly appeared yesterday and is pent up inside me, and I’ll burst if I don’t get it out and share it. So, please, be collegial and understanding, and bear with me because I think it is that important.
Do you know how many of us commit sacrilegious acts? By that I mean far, far too many of us, as my friend, Bri Johnson, wrote to me, don’t love our fates; we devalue our challenges; we don’t allow ourselves, as Nietzsche famously said, to become stronger by that which does not destroy us. Bri and Nietzsche were saying that life in all of its aspects just doesn’t always go the way we want, and there isn’t anything we can do about that. Yet, to wish for a life free of challenges is to wish for a life in which it would be impossible to find any kind of real fulfillment. It’s our responses to and handling of those challenges, large and small, that we can find valuable and magnificent opportunities to see into, to learn, to develop, to grow, and to accomplish.
I told a dear e-friend, that a serious, life-threatening illness, like any personal or professional challenge or adversity, becomes sacred when we decide to let it educate us, when we decide to let it alter us from the inside out, when we decide to let it tell us to live life to its fullness, when we decide to let it provide experiences and knowledge and emotions that we could not possibly acquire in any other way, when we let it guide us onto a meaningful and purposeful course, and when we decide to apply all that learning to our personal and professional lives. What makes any challenge, disappointment, or adversity a sacrilegious or sacred event, tumultuous or peaceful, is a matter of our attitude towards it. So often, too often, we let ourselves be distracted, diminished, slowed, or stopped by a piling up of negative and dismayed “why me” or forlorn “I wish” anger, anxiety, frustration, and/or resentment. That heap hides the potential peace hidden underneath and the possibility of bringing it to the surface. Such it was with my near-death cerebral hemorrhage. I have virtually no memory of that week in ICU, but Susan tells me that on that first day there, I told her that if I come through this, whatever the physical or mental consequences, we will not live in fear and anger, that we have to be at peace with what had happened and not live anxiously with what might happen. You see, until I had the CTA scan and we spoke with the neurosurgeon last Thursday, we knew that I had come through the experience unaffected, but we did not truly know if the prognosis was that I was going to be a walking time bomb and some day something would pop without warning, and my lights would dim or permanently go out. But, let me tell you something, during those seven weeks between the time of my hemorrhage and the time when the surgeon told us that there was no aneurism in my brain and a hemorrhage would not happen again, that peaceful acceptance and the willingness to learn from it, opened the door to everything. Let me tell you another thing. There’s a power to inner peace. In a quiet, calm, relaxing, and healing repose, I could connect with what is truly meaningful and valuable in both my personal and professional life. Coming from an experience with a freeing perspective of peaceful acceptance rather than from a negative and up-tight perspective of fearful and anxious tumult, whether we’re talking about a life-threatening cerebral hemorrhage or a challenging student or a quest for tenure or promotion or applying for a position or securing a publication or pressure from colleagues or administrators, or anything and anyone else, you have a truer sense of authenticity, a greater trust and deeper confidence in yourself and others, a sharper clarity to your thinking and feeling and doing, a greater depth to your understanding, a more sensitive empathy for others, and a greater desire to live your vision.
I realize more intensely than ever before that if I want better students, I have to become a better person. So, I’ve been asking the ultimate question of myself: what can I both as a person and teacher do better for the betterment of someone else? By that, I don’t’ mean merely stuffing someone with information; I don’t mean only developing someone’s so-called critical thinking skills; I don’t mean only honing someone’s technical or technological know-how; I don’t mean only credentialing someone for a professional position; and, I don’t mean coming up with improved classroom methods, techniques, technologies, and assessments. However, they important all that may be, they don’t collectively stack up to helping someone help her/himself to become a better person and to live life to its fullness.