Who are your teachers and what “study guides” do you have?

generous faithThis is what I read today in Generous Faith Stories to Inspire Abundant Living, a lovely book by Sr. Bridget Haase, OSU.

You remember Sr. Bridget. She’s the one I wrote about recently who is speaking at the Gather Us In 2013 women’s conference taking place on November 2. (see previous post).

She’s the one who has made it a habit to live life joyfully, fully, despite and because of what happens in her life.

from maninthemaze.blogspot.com
from maninthemaze.blogspot.com

Her book today offered a quick little chapter about a young girl from Dog Lick Hollow in the hills of Appalachia. Ida Jean was in Sister’s third grade classroom. Her mother said the Ida Jean “hain’t learned nothin’” but as Sister was to discover, Ida Jean had a wealth of information, taught to her by Mother Nature:

“She could call trees by name and she knew when a ‘growin’ shower’ was coming by the feel of the wind on her face. She anticipated with tango gut would bloom in the hills and would gather it before it was gone. Ida Jean could smell a copperhead before she glimpsed it and also could tend a fire. She knew to plant potatoes in the dark of the moon and to cut her hair in the last quarter.”

Having learned a great deal from Mother Nature myself, I knew that Ida Jean had experienced learning from a great teacher.

So who are my teachers and what “study guides” do I have?

rich fishingIn random order:

  • Books.
  • Louisa May Alcott.
  • A long walk on a summer’s day.
  • Intimate conversations with my sister.
  • Listening to my brother on the phone.
  • A quick dinner with my daughter.
  • Prayers at different intervals throughout the day.
  • Writing.
  • A day spent at the Houghton Library at Harvard.
  • Drifting downstream in the kayak with Rich.
  • Aching feet.
  • Gazing at an icon.
  • Pondering the face of God.

Ida Jean grew in self-esteem teaching others the skill of reading clouds.

cloudsHer classmates understood the hidden wisdom.

Clouds present beautiful pictures in the sky, being whatever your imagination makes them out to be: puffy white cotton balls, streaks of gray smeared across the sky with an invisible piece of charcoal, deep yellow and orange clumps of sherbert reflecting a magnificent sunset. Clouds can be most entertaining while sitting in traffic. Clouds tell me when a storm is brewing, building tall towers of marshmallow into the sky. I know it’s time to turn on my wipers when I see the rain cloud touching the horizon, marching towards me

Joni Mitchell sang about clouds. She knew too they were teachers:

Just now while writing this post, my computer decided it was time to update itself. Bam, shutdown! I was not pleased. While I sat waiting for it to do its thing, I looked out the window and watched the leaves on the trees rustle in the wind. I imagined them as thousands of hands from the hosts of heaven, waving at me. I’m glad my computer shut down to give me the time to see that.

I have many teachers. I love being a student and I will be one for the rest of my life.

Who are your teachers? What are your “study guides”?

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Yentl dared to dream and now, so do I

Note: This is a post I wrote nearly a year ago, right after I started this blog. It talks about dreams, and I am happy to report that some of them are already coming true. It is especially sweet for me to read this and know I have been moving forward, confident of what I feel called to do. It took me over fifty years to become confident enough to take a chance and dream, and then work to make the dream come true.

I hope this post inspires you to chase after your dreams too.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

barbra streisand a happening in central parkRecently I rediscovered early Barbra Streisand and her classic live album, “A Happening in Central Park.” As when I was a child, this performance really resonated with me. I didn’t know why back when I was 12 (except perhaps because it was shown on TV past my bedtime and I listened from my room anyway) but I know now at 57 – it’s the way she connects emotionally with the lyrics, never mind the fact that she has the most extraordinary set of pipes! I knew every song on that album by heart and used to pretend to be Babs in the car while driving. I never came close. 🙂

In reminiscing about Barbra, I came upon her “Yentl” soundtrack. I remembering enjoying the movie a lot and dug into the music. The first song in particular, “Where Is It Written?” made think about the women I’ve been reading about thanks to my obsession with Louisa May Alcott:

And why have eyes that see
And arms that reach
Unless you’re meant to know
There’s something more?
If not to hunger for the meaning of it all,
Then tell me what a soul is for?
Why have the wings
Unless you’re meant to fly?
And tell me please, why have a mind
If not to question why?

It sounds like something Jo March would say.

I live in a good time. Women are no longer restricted in their pursuit of learning (at least in the United States). Fully settled now in the “empty nester” phase of my life, learning has become a hunger that is never satisfied. While I am not what you would call scholarly or intellectual, I do have an insatiable curiosity. Just like Yentl.

In the movie, Yentl, a Jewish woman at the turn of the century, is unlike any woman in her village. While they are, fittingly, caught up with domestic concerns (food, drink, children, families), Yentl is consumed with learning the Talmud.  “Where Is It Written?” begins with:

There’s not a morning I begin without
A thousand questions running through my mind,
That I don’t try to find the reason and the logic
In the world that God designed.

barbra streisand yentlHer father, widowed for many years, indulges his daughter and secretly teaches her all that only men are allowed to learn. When her father passes away, Yentl is left with a decision: can she assume the expected life of a woman of her time, or must she break free somehow so that she can pursue the life she feels she is born to?

Deciding in favor of the bolder choice, Yentl cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy, joining other Jewish men in serious study. She meets Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) and they form a close friendship. As there are always consequences for keeping secrets, Yentl comes across some pretty difficult, and somewhat amusing, problems. But I’ll let you watch the movie to see how it all turns out.

I’m watching now as I write this. Yentl (now known as the boy Anshel) has been accepted into the school and is realizing her dream. As the song, “This Is One of Those Moments” is heard in the background, we see Yentl savoring her moment, loading her arms with books once forbidden to her, and engaging in the heated discussions about the Talmud that she has dreamed of.

Her mind is ready for the feast. At times she’s terrified, but she’s sure in her decision.

barbra streisand yentl with booksThat’s how I feel whenever I have the chance to increase my knowledge of my passion regarding Louisa May Alcott. I see that scene in the movie with Yentl’s arms loaded with books and I think of the day when I will finally step into the Houghton Library where so many of the Alcott papers are housed, and have my arms loaded up too, preparing me for my bold choice to write about this family.

I want to make my mark in Alcott lore and I feel I have something new to say even if I will never be a scholar.

And when I think about doing these things, I stop for a moment and give thanks to God and ask Him again, “Why have you graced me this this?” I should know better than to ask: God has His own plans for me and I usually don’t get to see too far down the road. Smart move on God’s part – it feeds the anticipation and makes the experience that much sweeter. It also prevents me from getting freaked out over knowing too much too soon.

Dreams are good. Life is good.

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