There was a children’s book some of us may remember called, “Are You My Mother?” It was about a baby bird who hatches from her egg while Mama is out hunting for food to bring home to the nest. The hatchling doesn’t know who or where she is, and goes on an adventure to track down her mother. She meets a cow, a horse, a fox - repeating ,with increasing anxiety, “Are you my mother?” At one point, I think she even asks a garbage truck who simple replies - SNORT!
This book came to mind the other night (at 3:24am of course), when I reflected back on a recent piece from Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening”, where he writes about our life teachers being everywhere - even if we don’t know we need them. Nepo says:
“Whether through birds in snow, or geese honking in the dark, or through the brilliant wet leaf that hits your face the moment you are questioning your worth, the quiet teachers are everywhere…”
(Isn’t that incredible? Love, love, love that man.)
So, there I was lying awake pre-dawn, staring at the ceiling, when it occurred to me that if teachers are everywhere and largely unseen, shouldn’t we all be asking, just as the baby bird did, “Are you my teacher?” I mean, shouldn’t we be unabashedly curious and always on the lookout? Who knows which teachers we’ll find and all we have to learn from them!
We just have to ask.
In my view, there is no such thing as mastery. There’s no final destination to knowing. We don’t follow an interest, ask all the questions, do the work, practice and practice some more and WHAM! We arrive at mastery. Tada! Nope, I don’t buy it. There is always something to learn - more folds and layers, levels and perspectives.
And without mastery, Curiosity (capital ‘C’) reigns queen - to keep us engaged in life and connected to one another. To keep us focused on finding and listening to our teachers.
Since I made this connection between the bird and Nepo’s musings, I’ve been putting it to the test:
- My 7-year-old was placed with a second grade teacher I’d heard rumors was strict, exclusionary and cold. I initially considered “fighting” it; to request he be moved to another room. And then...“Are you my teacher?” >>> Yes, indeed. With some reflection and trust, I refrained from all of that and realized that the experiences of others aren’t my own. That to judge people too swiftly, based on the assessments of my tribe is unfair -- especially to my son. Days later, we received a thoughtful and customized email from his teacher, checking in about the first week of school and praising our kid for being “mature” and “focused” and a “delight” to have in class.
- Through an online system I joined through my co-working space, I was matched with another member, based on the algorithm they use to do the pairings. We met last week for coffee. I was tired, depleted, feeling pretty low and unenergized. It took a lot to gear up and go, but then I asked and listened openly for an answer, ”Are you my teacher?” >>> Sure enough, when I showed up for our coffee, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. This amazing woman greeted with a welcoming and beautiful smile and we snuck off to a private room to chat. We told stories and devised plans to help each other out in our creative endeavors. There were resources shared and connections made. We had so much in common! Pretty sure I made a new friend that day.
Teachers can look like synchronicity or coincidence; a strong hunch or a persistent knowing that won’t leave you alone. They’re in the easy times and the really tough ones too. And often times, they’re hard to see. In improv-speak, they are the “offers” presented to us throughout our lives - and we can either choose to ignore them, or say “Yes!” and ask what they have to share.
So go ahead. Give it a shot and ask. “Are you my teacher?”