I would be a professional student for the rest of my life, given endless wealth and endless time. I have neither, so I have to get my learning in below the radar, as it were. Not that it's a secret or anything. If you've known me longer than say, five minutes, you know I'm a wonk, through and through. I'm a geek, a nerd, a brainiac. When I was growing up, in fourth or fifth grade, they called me Bomar Brain (Google it; it was part compliment, part condemnation). I was one smart little cookie. And while wildly unpopular during most of the school year, I would suddenly have eleventy-seven people all clamoring to be my friend whenever there was a group project to do or a test to study for.
(And yes-- I recognize that I just ended that sentence with a preposition. I did it quite mindfully and purposefully. So there.)
It always surprises me - being almost as naive as I am cynical - that not everyone is as fascinated with learning, that not everyone feels like a kid in a candy store at the prospect of diving into a new subject (or an old subject, for that matter). Discussion, argument (in the best, most awesome philosophical sense of the word), exhortation or lecture-- it never mattered. Never matters. It's all good, and energizing and amazing. It's all learning.
I'm awesome at the book stuff. It's the people stuff that still throws me for a loop.
Although I've gotten better over the decades (if by "better" you mean "took a very tiny step in a million mile journey") (metaphorically speaking), I clearly have so much more to learn.
You want to have an intellectual discussion on matters deep and profound? Perfect. Small talk? Chit chat? My skin still crawls every time I am faced with the prospect. Remember that scene from "All That Jazz," when Roy Scheider stands in front of his mirror every morning, downs a handful of pills, covers his face with his hands and then lowers them, saying "It's showtime!" to his own reflection? That's me, in spades-- I learned to play at human, not how to, you know, actually be one.
My son, my glorious, amazing and loving son-- he stood in front of me a month or three ago, tears streaming down his face, asking me why I sent him back to a place (the place being his high school) where he just feels like an outside All. The. Time. My heart shattered into an infinity of pieces. I asked the same thing, over and over again, at his age. Here it is, almost 40 years later, and I still don't have an answer, still don't get the whole people thing-- how do you fit in, how do you connect?
Please God, let me figure that out. let me learn that lesson. Please.
I don't know if I'm asking for myself or my son. I know I have no frame of reference for him, no handy lessons that will help ease the way. I am as lost in this as he is.
What I do know-- what' I've learned, is that now, right now, we stand at the edge of a vast and empty desert. It's the beginning, this place, the jumping off place. The start of a journey that will lead to some distant promised land-- whatever the hell that is. Journeys always seem so huge, so impossibly long. So impossibly solitary. And yet, they are all just made up of steps. One step, then another and another, in a long and (sometimes) circuitous path, until they move us (me) to some unimagined end, or some resting place along the way, marked with signs and wonders. And the counting of each step doesn't really matter until the end; up until then, they're just-- steps.
I've not reached the end, so it doesn't matter how many it's taken me to get here.
I have learned this much, though: as long as it doesn't matter-- why go it alone? Why not find some fellow travelers to walk with me along the way. We can talk, or be silent, sing some, learn some, pray some, think some. Share some. Share the joy. And the pain. The grief, the wonder, the boredom, the reverence and grace.
And maybe, what has been important for me is not finding the definitive answer, but learning how to seek it.
c Stacey Zisook Robinson
08 April 2014