Misunderstanding can be a gentle and learned teacher…
The other day I was running one of my standard favorites. Being Spring, the sky was clear, the temperature was low and the wind had kicked up to announce the movement of an upslope storm. As I climbed up the path, I approached a woman walking alone. Employing my usual practice, I yelled “on your left” many meters ahead of time so as not to frighten her. She turned with a start and a smile. “I am sorry if I scared you”, I blurted. Her response was “The wind has me…”. And thus the misunderstanding was born.
This past weekend I taught a workshop on evolution to a group of middle school and high school teachers. It was the first time I have taught to the people I see as my mentors. Yes, I was nervous. And yes, it went well. I was confident, relaxed and generally having fun. The response was positive with a number of teachers approaching me afterward to see if they could get my Powerpoint presentation to use in their classes. Public speaking is something that scares the shit out of me. And thus I have practiced it. A few years ago I jumped into a number of open mic sessions at a local poetry bookstore. I have practiced my presentations for general biology labs for undergraduates and reaped the benefits of not feeling incapacitated by fear. And I have stood in front of seventh graders over the course of the past year and talked about science; a subject I was never sure I could master.
The difference this weekend, standing in front of tenured teachers who had come to refresh their understanding of evolution, was that I was focused. I was focused on them as the experts and me as the tour guide. My role was to work with them, to discuss, to inquire, and to educate. The focus I had was on knowing there was no right or wrong in this discussion. I reveled in being present in what I was doing and didn’t much worry about what I wasn’t. There was a sense of comfort in not being perfect. In knowing I could explain any misunderstood or unclear concepts. And they responded with attention and appreciation.
While running to the high point of my run, I mulled over what I had thought I heard. I was sure the words she shared were “the wind has me present”. I felt so alive by this artistry. What a lovely way to express the immediacy of nature and its effect on our lives. Yes, the wind has us present, and thus it should.
As I ran down, I was so curious to know what she had really said. Well, mostly. Part of me wanted to accept it as it was. Part of me wanted to know if my story teller had invented something. As I approached her, this time face to face, I asked, “did you say the wind has me present?” She smiled big. “No! I said the wind has me flustered. But I love your version.”
That “flustered” and “present” are layers in the same story of my life is such a healing reality. That we can distinguish between the two is an art to be cultivated. Most of us will be nervous under certain circumstances. And most of us will be confident under certain circumstances. What struck me as liberating was seeing the space in between those two bookends and appreciating that growth happens when we jump into that uncertainty and expose weaknesses and fears that we can work on.