I am a terrible student. I don’t listen very well, having a lot of my own ideas and things to think about. I am quick to judge what others tell me and I am slow to accept new ideas or different thoughts. I’m a bit careless and a bit lazy – I’ve never been big on notes or homework. I have always been a bit hard on teachers I have had over the years. Some that have had a choice about it have even asked me not to come back – they had put in a lot of work teaching me and it was going nowhere and I didn’t seem very grateful about it either.
God, therefore, who has a wicked sense of humour, made me a teacher. Then, God gave me some terrible students. I admit to having noticed my attitudes and approaches to learning, and been amused at how ugly and irritating they are in another person. I appreciate this particular joke, even if it is at my expense because it is truly beautifully executed. When we don’t learn from elders – be they parents, teachers, or coaches – God smiles a little and sends us young people in the form of children, students and anyone else we’re supporting to learn from.
It’s like the creation story, which I am studying right now, and which we’re getting closer to in the Jewish year. (I’m telling it with God in the feminine but works fine with either gender – I’ve heard it both ways. I just happen to really dislike They as a singular pronoun – it reads funny to me.) God has some beautiful children, and sends them to play in the garden. She tells them lots of ways they can play and have fun, and then he says, ‘Don’t’. ‘Don’t what?’ asks Adam. ‘Don’t touch the fruit on that tree.’ Says God. ‘What tree? Hey, Eve, look we have a tree we can’t touch!’ ‘Cool!’ ‘Just don’t touch it!’ says God, wondering whether She shouldn’t have stopped Creation with the sea monsters. She comes back a few hours later to see Her kids enjoying a lovely fruit snack. ‘Didn’t I tell you not to touch that tree?’ ‘What tree?’ ‘I didn’t do it!’ ‘You did too’ ‘Eve made me!’ ‘I did not!’ ‘You did too!’ ‘Did not’ ‘Did too!’ So, God, with a growing headache, gave them a time out and pronounced the curse that has continued to echo down through the generations, ‘may your children be just like you!’
My children are just like me, some of them. Of course, some of them are completely different. They’re more like my teachers or parents, more like my mentors. I can learn from them all. It’s kind of cool, because even those kids that share my traits – even though some of them may be described by others as terrible students – they’re pretty darned wonderful. They’ve helped me realize all the ways in which I’m a wonderful student too. I care about the subject I’m learning and I like to go deeper into the questions and really understand the principles that make them work, not just learn the steps and formulas. I like most of my teachers and can be kind to them, talking to them like human beings and showing caring. I am patient and will slow down. I ask for help when I’m struggling without too much embarrassment, and (after some practice with gratitude) appreciate that help when it’s given. I am persistent – I won’t give up when I’m struggling, I’ll keep trying.
And God is happy to teach – maybe through new lessons, maybe through my kids, there will be a lesson. Elul gives me another chance to be a good student. I can learn from God’s little life lesson and be a better student. I can be slightly less lazy and slightly less angry, slightly less judgemental and slightly more grateful, slightly less self-focused and slightly more accepting. I can maximize my positive traits, noting the ones I appreciate in my students. I can laugh at myself (it always comes to that, somehow) and realize that as usual, God’s curse is a blessing. I am glad my children are just like me. I hope that I can, indeed, learn from them and continue to grow into a better student and as such, a better person.