Friday, July 11, 2014

Not-So-Casual Observations

When the words of others find resonance somewhere inside us - they tend to stick.

These words don't have to be accurate or true, they just have to find some kind of agreement with a belief we already hold, or be ones that we are willing to consider or accept.
For me, many of these little nuggets have come from teachers. They are usually short phrases - sometimes a challenge, sometimes a compliment, often a zinger.
Several of these were prescient - glimpses of what would ail me as my life went on. Others were lucid observations which, if heeded, could have saved me time and effort.

Math teacher, Mr. Jardim - "A bit too querulous."
This comment was written on my report card when I was fourteen, and sent me scurrying to the dictionary the moment I read it. "Given to complaining, peevish, grumbling". That stung because I didn't see myself as a grumbler. What I remember most about this though, is the satisfaction of finding the exact meaning of this word in the dictionary and composing a series of scathing rebuttals to his statement - none of which was delivered, of course.

English teacher, Mrs. Edinborough  - "You should write."
Mrs Edinborough has been one of the few people to 'get' me. Writing is what I have done most consistently throughout my life. It is one of the strongest threads of my self-identity.

Biochemistry teacher, Dr. Dyanand RajKumar - "Stop mumbling!"
Dr. RajKumar was my university biochemistry professor. I tend to speak quickly - and when I'm excited, I can speak a bit too quickly. It's something I've been mindful of for many years since his admonition.

I did my Bachelor of Science thesis under Dr. RajKumar - a study of the passion fruit, and the effect of stem angle on flowering and fruit production. I had my experiment set up at the field station and would make
lunchtime trips out there to check on my vines which I had trained on trellises at various angles from the vertical. The only thing I remember about this darned experiment was arriving at the station on a very hot day just in time to see a passion flower explode ( and I mean explode) open. It was worth all the trouble. I had a camera with me, and thus was born my love of botanical photography in general, and vines in particular.

Physics teacher, ( Ms. X ) - "Why aren't you going further with this?"
Physics was my pet subject. I got an almost perfect score on the finals but I did not take it further because at this point I already knew that I wanted to be a farmer. Though I took my advanced level studies in Chemistry, Geography and Biology, I have maintained a keen interest in the world of Physics.

Yoga Master Sky - "You don't trust yourself."
This statement made me very angry. I didn't understand what he meant, and I understood even less what it would take to address the problem.

Sister Mary Assumpta - "You're not putting yourself into it."
My aunt, Sr.Mary of the Assumption ( now deceased) was a Catholic Nun who used to be in charge of a small orphanage in Trinidad. The Home, as it was known, was home to twelve children from five families. The Home was funded partially by the government, but my aunt also lobbied local businesses and community members to donate food, clothing and supplies - especially at Christmas time. Her chief method of outreach was a letter writing campaign. And her chief letter writer was me.

My aunt wasn't the easiest person to get along with. Ordained people are not quite divine, it turns out. I remember the first year - the letter writing was not going very smoothly. I was sitting in her room at the foot of her bed, while she went over what she wanted to say. I was trying my best to capture it. The problem was, she didn't want me to capture what she was saying too accurately. She wanted me to transform it into something special. I wasn't in the mood, and she kept finding fault with my writing, finally exclaiming impatiently  "You're not putting yourself into it!"
I was infuriated at the time, but I now count this last take-down as one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received.  These words have come back to me at many moments sounding more and more like encouragement from inside than admonition from outside. They have become mine.