Just as I was setting out to organize my thoughts for a keynote presentation in April, I remembered Swami Ji Sivalingam, my yoga teacher from years ago. He told me that each time, before he starts to teach a yoga class, he thanks his past mentors and teachers. He would say: "So happy, so joy. This is Yoga," and just as he had managed to convince us to hold a difficult posture he would call out sharply, "Keep a smiling face." Oh how that would make me laugh inside and I would feel the joy all over my contorted body.
From time to time I think back to all the people I have considered teachers and mentors, and quietly thank them for their influence, support, and for helping create who I am today. After all, we are touched and affected by all those who wander onto our path, on purpose or by chance.
I guess my very first mentors and teachers would have to be my three oldest siblings. They were between six to twelve years older than me and I looked up to them as I was growing up, aspiring to be just like them in ways as unique and different as each of them were. I know that even today I carry within me many of the lessons I gleaned from their personalities, lives, and advice they generously gave me over the years: Political awareness, knowledge about health and nutrition, scholarship, negotiation in an administrative world, and a healthy cynicism about wealth and material possessions. I learned to be critical, discerning, and suspicious of superficiality and hypocrisy. I am sure that because I put them up on pedestals as younger siblings tend to do, I have probably been their harshest critic because of high expectations I have had. On the other hand, I learned from them to set high standards in the first place, for myself, others, and especially for those who are significant to us.
Memories of elementary or high school teachers are few indeed. Certainly Mr. Tregidgo, my High School English teacher stands out for me. I do not remember much about the lessons he taught except for learning never to start a sentence with “I.” What I do remember about him, though, was how, whenever he would meet me in the hallway he would wave and smile, and say, “Shalom!” to me. Mr. Tregidgo was not Jewish but I was. In fact, I was the only Jewish girl in the class. Each time he greeted me in that manner I felt included, important and worthwhile. His greeting was something personal, just for me. Here it is forty four years later and I still remember him for that.
Charlie was a friend, teacher, mentor, and became my closest family. Unconditionally accepting and always truthful and honest, he shared his deepest most vulnerable self with me, therefore allowing me to do the same. And even after his death he made sure to take care of me in a way that no one in my life has ever done. He expressed pride in my achievements and always, without exception, seemed pleased to see me. He stood by me and stood up for me at personal and professional levels, in ways that no one in my life as ever done. Indeed, I learned to make a stand for myself through that. From his behaviors, actions and what he said to me, I learned that I was lovable, intelligent, and of value. Whenever I have a bad day or an out of confidence moment or two, I remember Charlie, even talk to him inside my head, and bounce back stronger than ever. He is constantly with me.
I first heard Bruce Perry speak at a National conference about five years ago. It was a life altering experience. Every piece of his talk resonated with my life’s work as an early childhood teacher. The scientific discussion about brain development was extremely exciting especially from the angle Perry took. For, he talked about emotional memory templates and the importance of relationships. Each moment during his presentation became an "Aha!" moment reinforcing and reconfirming everything I have been thinking, feeling and experiencing about working with young children, their families and their teachers. Not to mention how much it helped explain about what I had been uncovering about myself in therapy over the years. What a teacher! What a mentor! I have since heard Bruce Perry speak four or five times (two of which I helped bring him to speak to the Western New York community) and each time is the same. He inspires me to continue the work I do and brings relief to my understanding of my own emotional development. Recently I wrote to Bruce after reading his latest work: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog (2006). I said, "Your book is very, very good. It is breaking my heart and teaching me so much even after I have heard you speak five times: a total of 15 hours or so!" It is definitely people like him who remind me how important my work is. Bruce Perry says it is all about relationships.
As I start to think of all the people who influenced me and, indeed, at times gave me, consciously or unawares, what I needed emotionally, intellectually, and even physically to change my life, I am awe struck by the list. For it seems endless. I realize that I am truly blessed. So many wonderful people shared themselves with me in ways that enhanced, deepened, and even changed my life over and over again.
And now, as I return to preparing my convocation address, I must admit that I probably have been and most likely am a teacher and mentor for others. The wheel of life spins on, and leads me to think about what sorts of pieces of myself or life experiences shared might have served as examples for others searching their way. For we can never really know which action or word spoken to a person affect them or in what way. Every person’s needs are related to where they are, at different places in time and experience.
But, at the very least, we can offer ourselves generously and openly to others, sharing, as Charlie did with me, our most vulnerable selves, and being as authentic and honest as we are able. And we must be tireless because nothing in this world is as important as relationships.
All of my teachers and mentors, whoever they were or are, taught me that!
A year ago at Tamarika: Jewels to discover and uncover