I was listening to someone on the radio last week who quoted Walt Disney who said, "Think beyond your lifetime." I began to think about what this means? What could I do, or how could I invest my time here on Earth so that even when I am gone, I will have left a legacy that would exceed the span of my life? Immediately my mind, of course, went to my children and the legacy that I try to leave with them through my daily life lessons that I share with them as well as through my words and my example. Then, to cast my net even wider, I invest in teachers--I spend my life preparing teachers, and I especially enjoy mentoring special individuals who soar in ways that are unimaginable and exceed all my expectations. These amazing teachers bless their students in immeasurable ways, and I am convinced that these students will then, in turn, grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow and will continue to change the world in positive ways. As I get older, I stop to think more and more beyond my lifetime...do you?
I started reading Coach John Wooden's book entitled Life Lessons On and Off the Court. Throughout the book, Coach Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach who led the team to 10 NCAA Championships, talks about how he taught his college players how to put on their socks and shoes. I tried to imagine this...a college coach instructing a group of men who were all over 6 feet tall how to smooth out their socks in order to prevent blisters and then how to double tie their shoes so that they would stay tied throughout their game. Coach Wooden explains that this was a fundamental step in preparing for the game--to have the athletes' "equipment" ready and to prevent injury while playing.
This basic lesson reminded me of how as a parent, I have observed how it is easy to assume that our children will know some fundamental skills in life, yet unless we intentionally pause to teach them, they may not ever learn some of these basic skills. With my own two sons, I have taught them how to give firm handshakes and to make direct eye contact when meeting people. I truly believe that this is a basic skill that contributes greatly to the first impression that you give when initially meeting someone. Many have commented about my sons' firm handshakes and have been impressed with their direct eye contact and introductory skills. Now I guess I need to teach them how to put on their socks and shoes too...
This morninng I listened to a TED talk that was entitled "The Danger of a Single Story". The speaker talks about how we risk having a limited understanding of a people or culture if we are reliant only on single stories which describe them.
Two quotes that the speaker shared stood out to me:
1) "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story." (13:19)
2) "The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of diginity; it makes our recognition of our equal humanitiy difficult. It recognizes how we are different rather than how we are similar (13:59)"
Our exchange student left today, and it feels like a member of my family has moved away. Just a month ago, I did not know this young man. We signed up for this program and selected Gonzalo by just reading his bio, seeing his picture in his application, and appreciating that he had a love for basketball and a dream to go to Vegas. We picked him up from a church parking lot, brought him into our home, and invited him to become part of our family just like that. Sometimes I don't even speak to people in the grocery store, let alone invite them into my home, yet, here we have. All kinds of positive karma, or good energy, have been produced from this amazing exchange. Talks of my sons going to Spain to visit Gonzalo one day, refreshing our lives by seeing it through Gonzalo's eyes, and the indescribable bonds of love and trust that were established between all of us in just one month. This has all made me stop to think how strangers can quickly become not just friends, but family.
Our exchange student has been with us for about two weeks now, and so I paused today to ask him what his favorite activity has been so far during his stay in America. His school program has been full, taking him to amusement parks, popular cities like Santa Monica, and beautiful local beaches. I, too, felt like I should be sure to schedule special activities or dinners to expose him to American culture and to maximize his time here. But what shocked and humbled me was Gonzalo's response when I asked, "What has been your favorite activity so far?" Gonzalo answered, "Spending time with my family." Too often in life we, including me, get caught up in big things and we lose sight of the fact that it's the small things, like making pancakes and waffles together for breakfast, that create the unforgettable moments in our lives. Thank you, Gonzalo, for reminding me of this.
Having been a teacher for over 20 years, I have worked with many students over the years. I enjoy hearing from my former students after they have graduated and moved on to experience their life's journeys. Recently, I reconnected with one of my students after about 10 years. I invested in this young man when he was a rebellious high school student, and stayed in touch with him for a bit after high school, but life happened, and I always wondered what became of him. We were able to catch up on the phone the other week. He is a father now, married, with two children. He moved out of California for a slower pace of life and it brought me great joy to hear about how he had built a happy life for himself and his family. He shared with me that he had a memory box, and in it was a buisness card of mine that I gave him over 10 years ago. This really touched my heart. I would have never known that he kept that little card, or that it symbolized something special to him. He called me his "mentor" and said that he hoped this his kids had just one teacher that was like me. This has made me stop to think of many things...like how teachers, in general, are in the memory boxes of so many of their students and may never know it....and it has made me stop to think about what is in my memory box. Maybe this will also make you stop to think what is in yours.
We have an exchange student from Spain who is staying with us for a month. The other day I took him to our local Target to see if he needed to buy anything and also to show him what Target offered. The store is close to our house and we visit there often. But that day, I saw Target with new eyes. Walking down each of the aisles, I explained to Gonzalo what the products were. I walked down one aisle and said, "All this is gum." Then I walked down the next aisle and said, "All this is soup." Gonzalo keeps saying, "In America, everything is very big." I've traveled outside of the U.S., but I think I have forgotten how truly blessed I am to live in America, a land full of prosperity, freedom...and aisles filled with endless flavors of gum and soup. I am thankful to see my life through Gonzalo's eyes, for it has made me stop to think how very fortunate I am.
I met up with some close friends from junior high school this past May. It had been 20+ years since we had really sat down to catch up on life. We each took a turn during lunch to summarize our life's journey in about 5 minutes, and then each person extrapolated upon different points in their journey. When I was asked what had been happening in my life for the past 20 years, I felt a bit uncertain about what to share, but somehow words automatically fell out of my mouth. I started with hardships with my parents, never overcoming the loss of my precious grandmother who raised me, attending graduate school for many years, and having my family. My best friend who sat beside me at the lunch table had witnessed most of these events, and she said I had more to share and referred to some recent difficulties I had experienced. It was at this moment when I realized that those incidents to which she was referring had been left out of my self-identification. Then, what scared me, but what I also found to be most fascinating, was realizing how I had identified myself after 20 years, without having given much time to think about it. It seemed like a simple reflex to share the pain of my relationship with my parents, the loss of my grandmother, my endless love for learning, and my love for my family as mile markers in my life's journey, while surprisingly leaving other events out that I thought were significant at the time. It made me wonder how my friends and family might respond to the same question. It made me STOP TO THINK: How would you identify yourself after 20 years if given only 5 minutes?
Dr. Stella Erbes
Dr. Stella Erbes is a teacher at heart. Her passion to teach and help others has led her to compose this site full of resources. Dr. Erbes is a university professor and teaches education courses which help prepare future teachers. She hopes that the lessons prepared here will lead her readers to exceptional food, unforgettable travel, and better living.
Stop to Think