– Bishop T.D. Jakes
I always get a bit envious this time of year as I watch the young people in my life go back to, or start, school. I get wistful when I’m in Boston and drive by the moving vans that clog the narrow streets of the Hub, as college kids reoccupy the city. I get nostalgic at the excitement of Matthew, a little boy in my church, who on Sunday literally jumped for joy as he told me that this year he gets to go to all day kindergarten! I may even get teary when I have coffee with a young woman named Anna, before she begins her studies this week at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts. Was it really thirty five years ago that I was in her place, when my Dad dropped me off at UMass, with an overstuffed steamer trunk and a head full of dreams? Even the familiar smell of a brand new notebook or a freshly sharpened pencil or a bright pink eraser can set me off, take me back to the twenty years I spent sitting in classrooms.
I want to go back to school! I want education as my sole life objective. I want to sit with fellow students and passionately debate ideas. I want a backpack full of books waiting to be read. I want to learn.
But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to formally matriculate or register or enroll in a school to do this. To learn. To arise each day and be curious about the life we live and place we inhabit. To see the next twenty four hours as an opportunity to gain a new skill, learn new information or understand a differing viewpoint. To view the world, the whole world, as a classroom, filled with people and experiences and ideas which, when encountered with an open heart and an open mind, absolutely have something to teach us.
To learn. To be a student. Not just in life, but of life. Not only in a building or lecture hall but on the streets too. To see this quest as life changing and world changing. To embrace the beautiful gift of curiosity our Creator gave us and then to use it wisely and well in our life’s journey.
To learn, for the mind and the heart are like muscles. Use them often and vigorously and they will flourish and strengthen. Use them sparingly and stingily and they will atrophy and harden. I’ve got a 100 year old grandfather who still lives on his own, who has outlived almost all of his peers. I imagine it would be easy for him to just give up and say, “I’ve learned enough.” Yet whenever I visit him, he’s always reading a new book or watching “Jeopardy” on TV. He asks me about my life: what I’m doing, where I’m traveling. I’m convinced his longevity and lucidity are the direct result of his willingness to learn something new every day.
Learning is not about age. It is about attitude. You can be 99 and fully alive to knowledge or 19 and completely hardened in your ideas. The best life is always about constant learning, constant curiosity and a constant commitment to grow: in heart, mind and soul.
Imagine what our world be like if more and more people lived with learning as their goal. Our collective hearts have broken in these waning weeks of summer at how much our world still has to learn. Israel/Palestine bombs Hamas in Gaza and Hamas bombs Israel/Palestine. An unarmed black teenager is gunned down on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. A bright and wonderful young woman is caught in a hail of bullets in Dorchester and dies. A brave American journalist is beheaded by so called “religious” soldiers who revel in the brutality and violence of their warped ideology.
Many factors led to these tragedies but I think plain old ignorance is what most fuels the human sins of such cruelty, stupidity and callousness. People of “faith” who blindly follow a narrow theology and refuse to respect or learn about the God walk of others. All they care about is their twisted view of the Divine. People in nations that claim a right to “defend” themselves, human rights be damned. So what if innocent civilians die in war? People of different races and classes who lack the emotional intelligence to imagine what life is like for “the other”, the one who looks back at them over the barrel of a drawn gun. If only we took the time to learn more about our “enemies”, the ones we deem “different”: the world would certainly be a much better place.
It is time to go back to school. For our world. For ourselves. Be curious. Many lessons await. The school of life is now in session.