Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

mistakes that aren’t bad

via google

via google

Making reservations for hotels while we’re on vacation, I couldn’t get the online form to ‘submit.’ Literally. Try after try, it said I wasn’t finished.  Yes I am! I thought. Dumb computer

But you know what? I’d messed up, and the form was right. I did NOT want to send it in w/ 2 rooms for 1 adult, instead of 1 room for the two of us.


Whether it was dumb luck or divine providence, it made me stop and wonder: how often have what seemed to be mistakes — even minor catastrophes — turned out to be that old blessing in disguise? And how often do I wail for no reason — even refusing to see the good that can come from a ‘mistake.’

It’s like the story Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer told, of a man whose only cow is taken. When an onlooker complains to an angel he’s accompanying (you need to find the story!), the angel replies: We were scheduled to take the wife, but he’s such a good man, we took the cow instead.


via google

via google

That’s not really a mistake, I know. But it’s the same point, at least to me. ‘Bad’ things may actually have good consequences.

All day today, when I stubbed my toe, or had a headache from my eye exam (I sooo hate having my eyes dilated!), or found the shirt I wanted clean for the trip in a messy heap, I thought about this. And you know what?

My day seemed measurably more pleasant. There may well have been angels watching.


packing, getting ready, and what counts as fun

via google

via google

I hate packing. I always forget something, although these days it’s less critical, since I’ll still be in the land of consumer items. When I lived overseas, anything I forgot meant I did without it for months…

And packing reminds me of moving, which used to make me throw up. Really. I would get sick to my stomach every time we had to move. (Often, in case you didn’t know — 14 times before I was 14.)


But I ADORE vacations. I begin anticipating a trip weeks, sometimes months, before we leave. There are guidebooks to buy, and reservations to make. There are lists of what to take, and what to do, and just planning. Which, it turns out, I like.

So, as I procrastinate packing for my upcoming trip to see my sons, DIL, and grandson, I’m wondering: how many things I would thoroughly enjoy are like vacations…? You know: with up-front stuff I don’t like.  The packing part of it.

I think I’m going to be rethinking exercise and lots of other things I would love the results of. Maybe I just need to pack? And make a list…? :)


a single squirrel

hawk with kill2When I took this picture, I was thrilled. Here was a hawk, on our corner, w/ its kill! And a second later, I noticed another hawk — a mature one, sitting atop the fence behind its offspring, watching as the young one tried to figure out how to eat a dead squirrel. How cool!

I confess: I never gave a thought to the squirrel…It’s all about context.

Yesterday, driving somewhere, I swerved to go around a newly dead squirrel in my lane, its creamy belly fur ruffling in the summer breeze. But what almost stopped me wasn’t the  dead squirrel, but its companion on the curb, pacing the cars as they drove past, watching. And no, young squirrel: your companion is not getting up.


So my grief wasn’t for the death — nor is it usually, these days. It’s for those of us abandoned to life, left to remember. Left to grieve, like the uncomprehending squirrel to the side of Riverside Drive, waiting for a small miracle.

Just a single squirrel now. Not part of a family, or a mated pair. Just a living squirrel, watching the wind tousling fur on a dead companion.

And I never even thought about the hawk.


teaching for change

via  The New Yorker

via The New Yorker

Warning: the following material may confuse you, or even make your head hurt. Because who knew it was sooo hard to effect change??

Teachers, that’s who. Especially teachers of young adults. Because when you’re little, learning is still FUN. There are cool toys that teach: blocks, puzzles, word games. And there are crayons, scissors, and little books. It’s all a kind of game.


And then testing and GRADES enter the picture. It’s obvious to students that we care far less about learning than grades. At least teachers — and students, and sometimes parents — know this.

But this isn’t a discussion of how misguided standardised testing is. I wish such a conversation would change policy, but I’ve had similar wishes and they don’t come true. There’s far too many $$ at stake (and yes, I’m that cynical…just follow the money, and you will be too).

Instead, I’d like us to look at a new study. One that examines how minds change. And the bad news: most of the time, they don’t.

We seem to have forgotten that the expression


“a liberal education” originally meant

among the Roman one worthy of free men.

                       ~ Henry David Thoreau

Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth who conducted the study, is automatically suspect to many neo-cons. I’ve talked recently about why so many neo-cons are anti-university, but suffice to say that a good education should include critical thinking. And if you think critically, you will eventually question all assumptions — including religious beliefs. Note: I know MANY academics who believe in various wisdom traditions, ranging from conservative Christianity to Islam to Hinduism to Buddhism to Unitarianism to Wicca. And more. Belief needn’t be antithetical to critical thinking.

Here’s what Nyhan’s study found, basically: people don’t change their opinions on things because of facts. Almost ever.

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