When I was nine, I read a short verse my mother had written in my cousin’s autograph book. In those days it was the rage to have your friends, their parents, even your own parents write in your book. Page after page of innocent, heart-felt prose and poetry captured friendships for posterity. My mother had written:
Learn to live
Learn to be wise
There is no end to learn in life
She signed her name, Effa.
It was the simplicity of her words in her elegant, tidy script that made me read it over and over.
A warm, marvelous feeling of discovery came over me as I realized this: My mother was more than just a person who took care of me—she had her own thoughts and unique outlook on life. She was a sum of her experiences. I also unknowingly learned that day the one truth that has accompanied me all my life—that life is about learning.
Over the years like my friends I learned to ride a bicycle, learned a second language, studied in school and sat for board examinations. Unlike my friends, I learned to play the guitar, basketball and softball. Together we helped each other survive overly-critical teachers, Calculus and Physics.
It wasn’t until I reached college that I learned how to make mistakes and experienced utter mortification as a result. From plain dumb faux pas to dreadful, arrogant mistakes to extreme risk-taking, I swung the pendulum of minor triumphs and major wins to the nadir of the human condition (I exaggerate, but you get the point). With each situation I learned about other people, those who I encountered fleetingly and those who I held dear to my heart. Most importantly, I learned about myself.
Sometimes I didn’t like what I saw, while at other times I was glad to be me.
It’s been many years since I read my mother’s words. That autograph book is long gone. I look at her and I recognize the indelible mark her life has left on her. Adversity has not dulled her curiosity for the new, she is stronger for her experiences. Successes only whet her appetite for learning new things so she can be better, be it making dough for Chinese buns or traveling across the globe to see her sisters.
I’m a parent now and the learning has only begun. Like my peers, I too have to relearn everything. I cannot pass on my experiences to my children to help them through difficult times on the playground. I cannot prevent them from discovering pain. On the flip side, I share their wonder at experiencing things for the first time, I see their unbridled excitement in discovery and I know they too will learn what life holds for them on their own.
Although I don’t always succeed, I believe that learning in life is not just important, it is essential to living, to being happy.
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