(Because of the nature of culminating events involving abuse of power by teachers, in my personal and academic life, I've decided to post this column a month ahead of time.)
We have many teachers in this life. Some are human, some animal, plant, and others who are part of our experience. Some are physical; some not. Our first teachers are our parents. They shape our minds, direct the entrance to this life. A kind word or nod can literally shift the direction of a day; even remake the path of a life. Many times I have heard how a teacher stepped in when no one else heard, and gave exactly what was needed.
One teacher of mine wouldn’t necessarily think of herself that way. From her I have learned a reverence for the earth as a being, for the water, a reverence for reverence. I have learned about paying respect for the gifts of the spirit. I have learned to accept the uniqueness of my own experience, and the uniqueness of others. I have seen her help strangers as well as family. Many homeless Indian men used to stop at her shop because they knew she’d give them food, talk to them as human beings. She is kind to all without question, and always does anything to the best of her ability. She's a hard worker. She would not want me to post her name here and would be embarrassed if she knew I was talking about her. She's a true teacher.
A cruel word or misdeed by a teacher can cut off the circulation to a part of the spirit. A singing child might never sing again. A young artist might turn their back on their finest gift. (I was once that child.) Gifts are like children. They come to us or through us, and they need to be nurtured. Still, they don’t belong to us. Gifts are there to be given back to the people.
There was once a man of our people who I admired. I looked up to him. He had been given many gifts. The knowledge of the ancestors had been passed down to him. I wanted to learn from him as I do from any of our elders I seek out. All of us eventually become the last generation and we have to pass on what we know so it can grow. He had something he was given to teach all of us. Instead he betrayed my trust by a disrespectful act. I was devastated, angry, and then sad. Then I realized that the truth of his character had been speaking to me all along and I hadn’t wanted to listen. I saw what I wanted to see, not the man as he really was.
Sometimes the wisest teachers come from within us. We can get so caught up in the surface running-around mind that we can forget to listen to and to trust the wise teacher who lives within each and every one of us. That wise one will always lead you in the right direction. It will always tell you the truth of the matter. It will tell you which direction to walk, and which direction to walk away from….and it always speaks and guides in a compassionate manner. (And how many times have we disregarded that teacher?)
Don’t forget this when you speak to your children, your parents, your friends and relatives, even your enemies. Don’t forget as you step out into your day or lay your head down at the end of the day. We are all teachers to each other.
c Joy Harjo March 31, 2008 Albuquerque