“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” — Hopi American Indian proverb
I love striking up conversations with people from all walks of life, especially those who have walked down paths I know nothing about. I try to have these conversations as often as I can, because I am always struck by the wisdom I discover in each and every one.
Earlier this week as my family vacationed at Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains, I met a forest ranger named Dwight. Dwight taught me the history of the forests, the wisdom of the plants, and how to remain calm if I ever lost my way in the woods. (He’s got a book called “Lost!: A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue” that I look forward to reading.)
I also met a vegetable gardener named John. John fell in love with vegetable drawings when he was a young boy and parlayed his interest into becoming one of the greatest gardeners in our country. (He’s also got a new book coming out that’s all about his journey to preserve our roots.) Ask John about tomatoes or garlic or seeds and he will give you a history lesson on each and tell you what to eat, when. (Only eat tomatoes when they’re in season, which is right now, he said. Otherwise, you’re eating engineered food.)
I also met Matthew, a beekeeper who fell in love with bees as a boy. He taught me more about the necessity of bees than I’ve learned in a lifetime. (One thing he taught me was that bees work themselves to death, literally. That’s certainly not something worth emulating.)
Then there was Alyssa, a young farmer who worked in public health before she came to Blackberry Farm. She said it wasn’t long before she fell in love with animals and had her life healed by them. When I asked how, she told me that working with animals (and cleaning up after them every day) had humbled her and taught her the importance of forgiveness.
“I realized that by taking their shit and putting it in the compost every day, I was helping regenerate life,” she said. “I thought about that—throwing my mistakes in the garbage and using it to bring life to new things—and I just saw everything differently. I healed myself, I forgave myself and I saw that my shit could also help others.”
Alyssa, whose face was young and bright, smiled widely when I told her that her story moved me.
“Really?” she said. “Wow, thank you.”
Being in nature this week with my kids opened my heart and mind. It made me realize, yet again, that there is wisdom, healing, love, joy and forgiveness everywhere we turn.
The truth is, I wouldn’t have learned that Dwight saved over 100 lost souls in the forest unless I had asked him a few questions. I wouldn’t have learned about Matthew’s love of bees or John’s love of vegetables or Alyssa’s love of animals had I not stepped forward and spoke to them.
Curiosity drives me. It always has. With age, though, I’ve come to realize that listening is the key to learning. I’ve discovered that it’s one thing to be curious, but if you don’t listen, then you can’t get to the heart of someone’s wisdom.
We hear a lot in the media about so-called thought leaders. They attend big conferences, give impressive TED talks and write best-selling books about politics, culture and the state of our state. They each have something to teach us, but when I really step back and think about it, I realize that my deepest wisdom has come from the teachers that live amongst us.
These everyday people may not be running big businesses or speaking at big conferences, but they are leading lives of tremendous passion and purpose. More often than not, they are following their hearts’ wisdom and aren’t concerned with how society labels them. They can teach you everything you need to know about life because their wisdom comes from studying our Earth’s plants, vegetables, flowers, animals, the wind and the stars.
I consider our Sunday Paper writers to be among these teachers, and I consider you to be one as well. Yes, you. Think about all the wisdom you have garnered throughout your life—be it from raising kids, teaching others, loving someone or tending to a garden or a broken heart. For sure, you have garnered wisdom that can heal another person’s life.
So when a curious person asks you a question, share what you think and what you feel. Share your knowledge. Share your heartbreak. Share the mistakes you have made and the lessons you have learned.
There is no doubt in my mind that the wisdom you have to share can change a life. There is also no doubt in my mind that everyone around you has something to teach you.
That’s what happened to me this week as I wandered deep in into the Great Smoky Mountains among nature and stillness. I went in one way and came out the other with just a little more wisdom than before.
Dear God, thank you for the wisdom and the wonder of all that surrounds me. Thank you for the flowers, the animals, the stars and the trees. Thank you for the people and the places that have something to teach me. Amen.
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