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A man walks into a psychic fair and asks the reader, Am I gonna meet a woman? She replies, Yeah. You just did. Now what?
I love telling that story not just because it’s tacky, but because it happened to me last month.
It was a big weekend conference in Denver — another sprawling metaphysical affair — and I was presenting an hour-long talk on the importance of letting go of the past. Whoever said that we teach what we need to learn was on to something because in the past few weeks, months, years and more, I’ve been constantly reminded of how very important and easily overlooked this principle is.
For privacy’s sake, we’ll call this man Don. Don was a good-looking gentleman — tall and robust with a thick head of silvery hair that men half his age would envy. I asked him what he was doing to meet women and explained that despite what anyone else told him that weekend, it was up to him to take charge of his dating life.
Don told me about the time he met a lovely woman at a recent political fundraiser and how they’d ventured into a lighthearted banter that lasted all the way through chicken and speeches, right up to dessert. That’s when he learned that she’d once been a teacher.
Don’s face tightened: I hate teachers—
Wait, I said. Are you telling me this, or is this what you said to her, Don?
Don confirmed what I’d hoped he wouldn’t, that he had indeed expressed his displeasure to the woman as forcefully as he had with me. He said he walked away from that table without so much as a second thought, a spoonful of dessert, or explanation.
When he was fourteen Don was accosted on his on his way to class by a male teacher who came from out of nowhere, he said, grabbed the young boy by his collar, and flung him against a locker. Donnie, I don’t like the look of you, and I never have, the teacher said. Boy, you won’t ever amount to anything.
Why would a teacher do that? Don asked, leaning toward me. Then he lowered his voice and fussed with a speck on the table. I wasn’t doing anything and here was this teacher who did this to me when – I was a kid – I wasn’t bothering anybody. I was minding my own business. His face relaxed, revealing traces of the defenseless boy I imagined him being more than fifty years ago.
No one came to help me, he said. Not a one of them.
He and I stared at each other in silence for a few seconds.
So, you hate all teachers, Don?
He nodded. They are the scum of the earth.
Even that woman at the fundraiser?
All of them.
Every teacher? Everywhere.
Look, he said, my daughter’s husband is thinking about becoming a teacher. I told him, ‘You know I’m never going to speak to you again if you do this, right?’
When I shared Don’s story during my talk that afternoon, I used his example as a reminder of what it looks like when we get stuck the past, reviving old wounds whenever life invites us to live in the moment.
I asked him to consider whether he might be closing himself off from potentially great relationships – including the one with his son-in-law – because of his choice to make an entire group responsible for one person’s bad behavior decades ago. I can’t be sure how willing Don was to listen to me, but at least he gets credit for keeping quiet when it was my turn to speak. He also taught me a lot in the process, whether or not he intended to.
Speaking of teachers, hows about we use Don’s example and look at the ways we might be shutting down new opportunities in our own lives by nursing grudges, playing dumb, going numb, or refusing to make new choices on account of being so invested in the past? In what ways might you you unwilling to live in the moment? Take your time with this one, mull it over, and reflect as often as you need to; there will be a test.
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