Learning 101 with Ananda and Ben: Role Reversal

My Pilates instructor is a spring chicken, and my writing coach is young too, just thirty-nine years old, younger than either of our children. Still, They are teaching me.

Since childhood, we have been conditioned to think of our teachers as older than we are. Such a perspective probably was formed in elementary school when our teachers were the age of our mothers or fathers. And then in high school, if we’re honest, some of those 45-year-old faculty looked absolutely ancient to us. I imagine I was viewed as an older sister when at Lancaster Mennonite School I was a mere four years older than my senior students. As I aged in my teaching profession, in my students’ eyes I may have passed for a mother or aunt, and later, in my sixties, students at the college must have viewed me as a grandmother or great-aunt.

Now after more than forty years in education, I am well into an encore career as a writer. To support such a sedentary life-style, I need to get off my duff and twist and turn, bob and weave, flexing muscles that get very little use otherwise as I finger the back-lighted black keys of my laptop, warming a pillowed chair. Ananda at Bailey’s Gym helps me do that. On her Pilates mat in front of a class of middle-aged women, she is as flexible as a rubber band, inviting us into poses of bold bends that I can at best only approximate. Gentle and petite in nature, this native of Colombia helps me correct my efforts.

Ananda2

“Ma-ri-ann, eez this way . . . extend your left leg a lee-tle further.” And so, I adjust my appendages to comply with her instructions, but not without cringing a little. Yes, though Ananda is ever so easy-going and gracious, I do chafe at being singled out for wrong moves. After all, she called out my name. Everyone else heard that I messed up! Still, I know I will bring out my exercise mat next week and sit for another session with her gentle but precise guidance.

Then, there’s Benjamin, my writing coach. A poet, gardener, and memoir-writer, Ben Vogt is my writing teacher in an online course entitled All in the Family: Research and Write Your Family’s  History. He too is gentle, introspective, always affirming. But he is also incisive, biting into the scripts I send him with loud barks in return, always in caps: HOW BIG IS MEDIUM? YOU’VE GOT TO BE FAR MORE DETAILED AND DESCRIPTIVE FOR US . . .

BenVogtGardener

And on the next page, I see more yelling in loud crescendo as I notice I have missed the mark trying to describe what my Mennonite pastor was wearing: LET’S SEE THE WARDROBE WITH MORE DETAILS – NAME THE CLOTHING PARTS MORE, SHOW SHOW SHOW! To be fair, every once in a while I see that I have succeeded: “GREAT PARAGRAPH!” he shouts in all caps. He is thrilled when I use sensory detail (All five senses now!) to properly develop a scene instead of resorting to flabby adjectives. Then I’m both surprised – and pleased.

What is the point here? I am submitting to tutelage because I want to. I believe there is way more for me to learn. I’m not a finished product, and probably will never be, so I need more priming and polishing from folks expert in their fields. Why? Because I don’t have the insight to see how or where my efforts have gone awry. And, yes, these tutors can be younger, way younger, than I am.

Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?

Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Of course, neither Ananda nor Ben have ever rejected me or treated me with the slightest bit of contempt, but each has sought to “dispute the passage with [me],” and though it is uncomfortable, even painful at times, I have benefited from these lessons. Indeed, I am learning lessons from them and others. Learning. Still.

Still learning.

Are you are lifelong learner? How or when have you learned from “teachers” of any age? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

 

Coming next: Faraway Friends: Kitsa & Lydia

Lincoln, Lilacs, and Grandma’s Outhouse

Lilacs in Washington State

Earlier this month, my husband Cliff and family laid to rest his father Lee Beaman in a tiny urn above the coffin of his mother in the cemetery adjoining the church. Across the street from the simple, white-plank Methodist Church near Ridgefield, WA, are lilac bushes in full bloom this April. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, here is a website you may want to check out: //lilacgardens.com/

Lilacs along McCardy Road, Bethel Methodist Church, Ridgefield, WA
Lilacs along Carty Road, near Bethel Methodist Church, Ridgefield, WA

Like floral fireworks, these blooms explode in vivid lavender, each blossom bursting in “bullet-shaped buds.” Poet Richard Wilbur seems to scrutinize the lilacs he describes by looking into not just at the hundreds of teeny buds arranged in each bursting bloom tighter than stick pins in a pincushion.

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As poet Wilbur points out, each tiny lavender bud appears “quick and bursting,” not holding back its beauty – is open and free. Similarly, when friends and family eulogize the beloved, their remarks tend to be candid, “quick and bursting,” revealing true feelings, knowing this is probably the last time to express their sentiments publicly.

Lincoln and Lilacs

Another poet, Walt Whitman, connected grief to the springtime and lilacs as he expresses his deep attachment to Abraham Lincoln, whose death April 15, 1865, is commemorated in his famous poem When Lilacs Last By the Dooryard Bloom’d. Written in private, the poem is a public elegy to the President the people adored. The poet revered the President too and when the cortége passed by, Whitman placed a sprig of lilacs on the coffin:

“With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leave of rich green, /A sprig with its flower I break.” (stanza 3)  Then admitting that “the lilac with mastering odor holds me,” Whitman will forever associate the fragrance of lilacs with his fallen hero (stanza 13).

Finally, referring to Lincoln as a “Powerful western fallen star” the poem closes with the lines

For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,

Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,

There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

Kathy Beaman holding lilac after Dad's memorial service
Kathy Beaman holding lilacs after Dad’s memorial service

Lilacs Bushes and Grandma’s Outhouse

Please permit me this odd segué!

I love lavender and purple – and I love lilacs and wisteria. Wisteria climbing joyfully on a trellis on Grandma’s verandah and lilacs some distance away. . .

Close to an oak tree that Grandma Longenecker’s grand-children planted in her honor after her death in 1980, was an outhouse (now long gone) surrounded by a clutch of lilac bushes. The lilacs around Grandma’s house served as a fragrant air freshener. Of course, there is nothing elegiac about an outhouse, a tallish, square white structure with a roof, equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog or better yet for the job – a phone book. The outhouse, dedicated to defecation, bears evidence that bodily functions continue, that you are still alive. Lilacs thrive there.

Long live the lilacs. Long live symbols of life, death, and rebirth!

* * *

. . .  and a bush nobody had noticed burst into glory and fragrance, and it was a purple lilac bush. Such a jumble of spring and summer was not to be believed in, except by those who dwelt in those gardens.

The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim

Now, your turn. What is your relationship to lilacs or other spring flowers? To commemorating the death of loved ones?

 

Purple Passages: A Dragon with a Gift, April 2014

LILACS

LILACS

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots and spring rain.

T. S. Eliot The Waste-Land

 

When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with every-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

 

Walt Whitman, elegy commemorating the death of Lincoln, 1865

 

EASTER

Easter is very important to me, it’s a second chance.  ―  Reba McEntire

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.    ― Pope John Paul II

 

LAUGHTER

Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life.    (Unknown)

Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects.  ―  Arnold H. Glasgow

 

WORK

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. ―  J. M. Barrie

When you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap.    ― Mason Cooley

 

CHALLENGE

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Dragon and Gift_final_shade+color_crop_5x5_300

Tame the dragon and the gift is yours.

Noela Evans, on persevering through problems, endurance

Shakespeare says it another way, but with a toad:  Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head. 

READING

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. ― Mason Cooley

One rainy Sunday when I was in the third grade, I picked up a book to look at the pictures and discovered that even though I did not want to, I was reading. I have been a reader ever since.   ― Beverly Cleary

Marian Reading_14mos._2x4_300 THE  FUTURE

The best thing about the future is it comes one day at a time.  ― Abraham Lincoln

 *   *   *

Do you believe a challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth? A story about this that comes to mind . . . ?

What category can you add a quote to? 

What other topics would you like to see in this monthly feature, Purple Passages?

Coming next: Mennonite Flashback III: Rabbits and Rings