I am a teacher. What a privileged title; teacher! My calling is to walk with young people, to help them find their key to their dreams for OUR world.
I come alive when I see the sparkle in a young person’s eyes, when I sense their passion to make a difference, when the fragile flame of self-belief flickers and then grows stronger. I come alive when young people bring their passion and energy and claim their voice in making this a better world for all. I come alive when, with the crowd and noise all around them, young people grow the ears and the heart to truly hear their unique voice in the midst of so much babble. I come alive when I see the eyes of the love struck dreamer as they step out, one small step at a time, to be their best self and to be that for all who call our global village home.
For we here in the Southern Hemisphere these next few days will see tens of thousands of wonderful young people leave the world of school and set out on the adventure of adulthood.
The teacher and the dreamer in me hopes they carry a backpack. I hope that often on their journey they will pause and reach into that pack and draw out the shield of resilience and other necessities to a fulfilling life of meaning and purpose.
Resilience: Life is not always fair. Life of its very essence has the good and the bad. There are rainy days and sunny days. Sometimes you take two steps back before, with courage, you take that one step forward again – but that ONE STEP is what makes life wonderful. You WILL be shat upon and not always by pigeons! You WILL meet the cynic, the bully, the manipulator, the user and the thief of joy. But you know, deep down, that these are simply children who lost courage in the small things and sold out to a lesser self. So when, not if, you meet life’s challenges, choose! Choose to get up again. Choose to let go of anger and hurt and the “its not fair” voice. Toughen your spirit up. Know the rain will be there along with the dark but know too that the sun will shine again, the storms will pass and you will get up again stronger and more true to yourself.
Discipline: Gain this resilience by reaching into your backpack often and finding self-discipline. It is remarkable just how powerful the simple word, “No” is! No in all the small five second choices makes for a noble life of self pride. Discipline is made up of thousands of small, apparently ordinary and unimportant choices – but THEY do, they really do make all the difference. The choice to delay or give up short term bliss and pleasure for longer term deeper satisfaction. The choice to put others first. The choice to set yourself goals that will stretch yourself out of your comfort zone – and into the world of ‘pain’ but rewarded with an extraordinary sense of self. All of these choices begin with the ‘first step’ (as the John Farnham song says) – the hardest step to take. The beautiful thing about discipline is that it gets easier. As it becomes habit, as it becomes ‘my thing’, as its benefits grow – it becomes the new me. The ‘no’ in times becomes the most beautiful and powerful ‘yes’ to life!
Courage: There will be times when you will need to reach into that backpack and reach for courage. But rarely will it be physical courage that is needed. Sure, there will be times when you will need physical courage but daily you will need to reach for the courage our world so desperately needs; moral courage. The courage to say to some goose when they are not treating a woman with respect, “Stop!” The courage to name corruption! The courage to stand beside the victim and the powerless when it will cost you but you KNOW it is right. The courage to be true to yourself. The courage to forgive yourself and the other. The courage to voice that which is not popular but right, not ‘cool’ but true, not ‘easy’ but so desperately needed. Moral courage; the courage to know what is right and to do it, claim it, and shout it from the rooftops. We so desperately need the courage to speak truth to the face of power over, the courage to defend life, celebrate the innate dignity of all – especially the powerless and the vulnerable – the courage to march to your own drum and drown out the bleating of the ever present sheep.
Generosity: The son of a rich nobleman once walked from the city of Assisi and a life of comfort and wealth and he did no naked. That man, Francis, discovered life’s great secret that it is in giving that we receive! He discovered that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and set free. He discovered that when we ‘lose’ our lives we actually gain them, when we ‘die’ to ourselves – we discover a rich new life born within.
Sadly we live in a world of greed and selfishness. Our media saturated lives drown us with the message of ME ME ME; me first! My comfort, my wealth, my career, my power, my luxury, my land, my space and all of this ‘me’ destroys the spirit within that finds true life in the ‘we’. “No man is an island complete unto himself” so wrote the poet John Donne. The great paradox of life is that when we breath in but ACT OUT – when we are other centred, when we embrace the noble mantle of service, when we put the other first – we actually receive infinitely more than we give. The generous giver will know true and lasting freedom. This generosity will flow naturally from the humble heart with eyes to see that the other is truly my brother and my sister.
Respect & compassion: In that backpack, tight by generosity and self-discipline and resilience will be respect and its twin compassion. Respect; to see with eyes that see dignity. Respect; to honour the story of the other that we meet. Respect; to ‘look again’, bow low and honour the other. Respect must begin with self. Can we see our own worth and dignity? Can we forgive ourselves? Accept ourselves? When we set out on this journey – of self-respect, we will begin to honour and respect the other regardless of how the other is different to us. Respect frees our spirit from the burden of vengeance and revenge, pay-back and judgement, competition and the need to be ‘better than’ – respect allows us to sit down in shared brotherhood and sisterhood and break bread.
When we respect – our hearts will open in compassion. When we respect – our arms will wrap around. When we respect – our eyes soften and understand. When we respect – our words will empower and ennoble. When we respect – we will find the courage to walk towards pain. When we respect – we will hear the cry of the hurting, the vulnerable and the oppressed.
When we do all of this – in time – that respect will grow to embrace our mother Earth itself.
Trust: Backpacks are often used on journeys. When we set out on the journey to be our best selves and reach into our backpack for courage and respect, compassion and generosity, resilience and self-discipline – we will need to trust ourselves and our hearts, often when everything around us says ‘no’. Just as the athlete trusts their hundreds of hours of training when that crucial moment comes on the pitch, just as the parent trusts their countless hours of unconditional love when their child sets out on the stormy water of life, just as the wind blows a gale in our faces and every thought appears full of doubt – we reach down, deep down and trust the integrity of our journey and our truest self. Trust that deep inner heart whisper that no one but yourself can hear! Listen for it and you will know life to the full.
Fidelity: In my many years of working with homeless people probably the one thing I learnt was that more than anything these beautiful people needed my and our fidelity more than anything else. Sure the hot soup in the midst of winter was great, the thick socks given at Christmas were welcome, the listening ear that had heard the story a hundred times was appreciated but all of this was made sacred because we ‘turned up’, we were faithful – rain, hail or shine. Our fidelity said, “YOU are important to me!”
So on the journey that is life get out of bed (literally and figuratively). Get up again and set out on the journey – again. Sure, tired and aching muscles, the weariness of the dreamer, the encounter with the baby or the door knocking stranger in the wee hours, the mundane and the ordinary – sure all of this – this is life. But guided by the heart compass of love, turn up, begin again, forgive again, trust again – reach out – again and do so, over and over and over again! This is the fidelity that will touch the hearts of those needing hope in their dark times and where our fidelity becomes a candle in the midst of their darkness and we might never know it.
Perspective: Finally all of these elements that mysteriously make our backpack light rather than heavy – will gift us with perspective. The pain will not last, the dawn does come, we do get ‘over it’, we do ‘move on’, we do forgive, let go, find our mojo again. The sparkle in the eye will return, we will laugh at self and silliness and through perspective we will gain a wisdom beyond our years.
Any love person in my life has always had a mysteriously sparkle in their eyes despite life’s difficulties and a bounce in their steps. Perhaps they had come to truly know the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw when he wrote, “Life is not meant to be easy, but take courage, my child, it can be delightful!”
Oh, and yes – our backpack like the backpacks of life will have a label and ours does too – love! Love; simple, noble, ordinary and vital for life! What a backpack!