Some prefer their learning delivered through stacks of facts. Facts lined up with their edges squared and precise, like the desks in an old classroom. Facts stuffed to (over)fill precious time. Trainers channeling their knowledge into (supposed) empty and (un)willing brains.
Others (in the know) realize that learning needs to be coupled with engagement. Learning can happen anywhere, even (especially) in the most unlikely situations. Like at family reunions.
I recently returned from one. A family reunion that is. Amongst the wisps of campfire smoke, which looked like the arms of an evocative belly dancer, there were learning’s rife for the picking.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let me set the stage for you first.
Recently I wrote a popular post about ‘who am I? One of the things that defines me is that I’m a learner. I love to learn, I love learning about how people learn and I especially adore playing a role in others learning. So when I set out with my family to journey more than 2500 miles / 4000 km by driving halfway across Canada and back, I also set out to learn.
As we journeyed amongst this nation of migrants, we joined the ribbon of campers and semi’s moving families and goods. We watched endless trains wind through the landscape like necklaces adorning the rolling hills. We moved amongst the mountains, their craggy tops looking like an old man’s eyebrows, wild, wayward and untamed.
As we got closer to our prairie destination I reflected on my origins. I was conceived in the polar bear capital of Canada to parents who were far from home, their prairie home. When they realized they were pregnant they decided to move from the icy, far north to sunny California. Once they hit Vancouver however, they stopped and I’d found a home.
Prairie blood still runs deep in my DNA, the same prairies which we were returning to. Returning, on this once every three year jaunt, to relatives who make their way in the world farming, raising livestock, working the rigs and driving trucks. All of which are a far cry from my daily, urban life.
As we rolled past fields that stretched as far as the horizon, I looked at the huge pieces of farm machinery, some of which looked like massive green crickets waiting to pounce. I remembered being gently teased as a kid, when upon visiting relatives, I couldn’t identify the most basic of farming equipment.
When we finally arrived I was immersed in this big, old family of mine, all descendants of my beloved Nana and her brothers and sisters. I jumped into a learning culture.
I learned from relatives who raise and sell bulls. I was gobsmacked (after realizing they weren’t teasing me) that measuring bull’s testicles and having sperm tested is all part and parcel of selling them. I listened, as my mouth watered, to the large menu of homemade food that’s made when a bull sale is on, when up to 200 interested customers get fed.
I learned about a new house being built that would be ready for move in at harvest time …. and as someone who has spent almost her entire life in and around cities, I had to ask for a translation of when that exactly was.
I watched my cousin get my 13 year old kid up on the impromptu dance floor, a grassy, flat patch at the campground, and teach him how to dance. How to move his body to the rhythm.
I learned about the breath sucking, heart clenching effects of grief as two relatives fell into each others arms crying. One had lost an adult daughter in a horrific car crash and one had lost a husband to drowning. I also watched the heart lifting, chuckle inducing effects that a new baby had on these same women, as the grief slowly, slowly ebbs.
I watched in marvel how the family rallied, when some relatives got sick from food poisoning and had to be hospitalized. I drove my aunt and her husband into a tiny, rural hospital in his big truck where they were treated by a doctor from South Africa. Relatives just came. They came to see what they could do. Hours in, plates piled high with homemade food showed up. I sat in the hospital driveway, as the sun was setting on the prairie horizon, in this tiny town, reminiscing with relatives and marveling at how different this life was.
As we turned towards home and headed into the sun, I listened to Leonard Cohen ‘ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. I wondered what my kid’s lives would be like if we were living on the prairies. Far different from most of my relatives who spend their entire lives in tiny towns, I wondered about the effects we, my husband and I, trade in when we travel far and wide around this old globe.
As I turned my face to the sun and continued to follow the gray ribbon of highway home, I mostly wondered about learning, in all its shapes and sizes. I thought about creating cultures of learning and how grateful I am to do that for a living. And how grateful I am to carry that desire to learn everywhere I go, even into the rural wilds of prairie Canada where I meet up with much loved relatives and fill up my brain with both our lovely differences and similarities.
I learned the distance we travel is not always measured in miles and our minds work better if they are in tandem with our hearts.