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who are you to teach me a lesson?

November 8, 2010

Three people have moved me to the edge of tears in the last three days.

The first was a twelve-year-old boy. The second was his school Principal. The third was a man about my age that I passed at the local shopping centre. Each have left their mark on me.

The boy was sharing in the experience of the Samurai Game in Schools. When I asked the class why they thought George Leonard would decree that the Fate of War should be arbitrary, capricious and unfair he put his hand up. His quiet voice filled the silent hall with one sentence.

Because sometimes there are things in life that happen that are not fair

After we had finished I met briefly with the school Principal. I thanked him for the privilege of spending the day with his students. His trust in me and his support was what had allowed me to return to the school this year and spend the day doing work that feeds my soul. When I was about to give up, he gave me hope.

Shopping trolleyThe third man was seated on a bench a couple of metres away from the checkout at Woolworths.

When I first noticed him he had his head down but I could see he was holding a ten-dollar note in his mouth, an open wallet in his left hand and another ten-dollar note in his right hand – which he was putting into his wallet.

When I glanced at him again a few seconds later he was still trying, head down, to put the ten-dollar note into his wallet.

He was shaking.

As we walked away with our trolley full of groceries I looked again. I could see the ten-dollar note held in his mouth. Another in his hand.

He was still shaking but for me the world had stopped moving.

Until he stopped moving.

Head down. He was holding a ten-dollar note in his mouth, an open wallet in his left hand and another ten-dollar note in his right hand. Unmoving.  I can only guess that he had given up trying.

I am ashamed to say that I walked away and left him there. Head down.

He won’t go away though. Neither will the Principal. Or the twelve-year-old boy.

Sometimes there are things in life that happen that are not fair, things that can shake us until we give up trying.

I should know better though – it only takes the support of one person to give us back our hope.


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11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 10:58 pm

    I am always picked up with the reminder from Louise Hays: “Gratitude and unhappiness are mutually exclusive.”

    I suppose it can apply to hope, but it would be good to find the aphorism that nails it. I think we know what happens when we loose hope, but what phrase could trigger the return with a spring in the step and the chin up?

    • November 8, 2010 11:19 pm

      I don’t have an answer to your question Paul. I have just finished watching a great TED talk by Dr Brene Brown (the best place to view it is part of this post ) where she points to the importance of accepting and embracing our vulnerability without making any attempt to numb the discomfort that might come with that.

      She makes a powerful case for accepting our unhappy times – for just sitting with them, so that we remain capable of experiencing true joy. Her key, like yours, is gratitude. Gratitude for the ordinary in our lives. Somehow that simple act has the power, she suggests, to lift the chin up. I want to watch her a couple more times before I decide if I agree.

  2. Susie Surtees: EXPLORE Creative Life Design permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:41 am

    As always, you remind us that our teachers are everywhere – a boy, a trembling man struggling to put notes in his wallet – when we’re open enough to allow our hearts to awaken to feeling, hearing and seeing the lessons that lie before us everywhere we go. Thank you Paul for your sensitive candour.

  3. Susie Surtees: EXPLORE Creative Life Design permalink
    November 11, 2010 10:23 am

    Everything in the world is our teacher.

  4. little bro permalink
    November 11, 2010 10:28 am

    It’s dangerous and possibly arrogant to assume that the trembling man wanted your help in the first place.

    After having known people who have suffered through considerable life changing health related events, some of whom have lost significant independence and mobility, the last thing some want (or wanted) is for someone to help them perform the simple tasks that sometimes to them are all they have left of their independence.

    Of course it’s a different story if someone stole the $10 out of his mouth and took off with it.


    • November 11, 2010 9:41 pm

      That is a perspective that I hadn’t considered and I take your point about people not wanting help – to be allowed to complete the task themselves. I know there are times when my daughters do not want my help – and that can be hard for me to accept sometimes.

      I think that I am more concerned that people will stop offering to help because they assume that the offer will be rejected.

      Between having that experience and writing the post I spent some time wondering what I would have said or done if I had that time over again. I don’t know for sure but I think I would have simply sat down beside him and been open to whatever might have happened next.

      I am struggling at the moment with writing a post in response to a request for my thoughts on “support”. I know that for me, sometimes all the support I need is the knowledge that there is someone nearby who stands ready to help me should I need it. Many of us are blessed to have family who do that for us – I just got the sense that the man outside Woolworths does not.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective – and for changing mine.

      • little bro permalink
        November 15, 2010 10:23 am

        I firmly believe that sometimes we really are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t – some would be grateful, others offended and sometimes it will depend on who you are to the person – tough one!

        Nice segway to your statements on the “support” post though – it is true, many of us are indeed blessed to have family that are standing by to help if we need it (and they genuinely want to help), but sometimes they’re not the “right” family. Maybe some don’t have family at all…

        That’s where there is power in your approach the second time around – sit beside them and be open to what happens next… nice approach, thanks!

      • Claire permalink
        November 23, 2010 9:06 am

        I think your point is valid little bro but in my experience with children (the ones who often need our support the most) it really is a case of the people who are in need of help not knowing how to ask for it. In many cases, they often want the help, but knowing it means taking time out of someone’s busy day (like interrupting the trip back to the car with the groceries), they actually don’t want to be a burden. While it feels like you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, wouldn’t you rather ask someone if they could use a hand, and being told they are capable, or possibly actually giving them the voice to ask for help where they were afraid to ask before, than walking away and wondering if that person really was okay?
        Isn’t that what charity is all about? Giving a voice to someone who needs/wants to be heard? Sometimes giving someone the opportunity to reject your help, actually gives them the strength and courage to complete the task they were struggling with in the first place. In that instance, it feels like by offering help, you can’t lose either way.

  5. November 23, 2010 9:21 pm

    “Giving someone the opportunity to reject your help” is a nice way to put it. It implies you are not expecting to be taken up on the offer and that it will be OK with you if they do not. I am not sure that it is only children who struggle with asking for help – I know it is not something I am good at.


  1. on feeling supported « finding my own Way

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