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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

Ready or Not

Updated: May 20

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

The first time I heard this adage from ancient Eastern tradition, the idea seemed mystically wonderful. It was as though my next teacher was ‘out there’ waiting for me. I only had to be ready, eager to take the next step toward something new.

More often it seemed my teachers were the type that sneaked up on me, ready or not. One such teacher was the Graber family’s slide, (or “sliding board,” as we called it in Ohio.)

When I was ten Sunday afternoons were usually spent with my best friend, Charlotte, who lived in Hartville’s flat swampland, a couple of miles from our hilly farm. The Grabers grew organic produce in their rich, black muck fields (long before anyone else knew “organic” was a healthy thing.) They shipped the sweetest-tasting radishes, green onions, parsley, bibb, boston & romaine lettuces, beets, and carrots all over the Midwest and up the east coast to New York City and Boston.

There were seven kids in the Graber family with several clustered around my age. They all worked hard on their farm during the week, but on Sunday everyone played. Being swept into the midst of that warm, spontaneous family was wildly fun for me. What one kid didn’t think of another did. I kept up the best I could, getting coated in black dirt like they did and scrubbing it off in the open shower, two or three of us at a time, in their basement before I went home.

(Photo: Graber sisters, Charlotte and Twila)

The minute the sun came out after a downpour on one rainy Sunday the Graber kids kicked off their shoes and shot out the door as if summoned simultaneously. They raced to the slide, which still had rain beaded up on its slick, shiny surface.

I followed behind watching them scramble up the ladder. One by one, with arms outstretched and knees slightly bent, they flew down the slide standing up! Like surfer dudes riding the big wave. It looked so easy! Even the younger kids rode that wave gracefully.

Of course, I got in line. I remember hesitating at the top, feeling the thrill of such a daredevil feat my parents would never have approved of me doing. It went so much faster than I’d expected. I don’t remember much. Apparently, it was a spectacular wipe-out. My front tooth met the metal rim of the slide squarely, leaving a bloody gap in my smile. Dazed, I began searching through the wet grass for my missing tooth. It seemed important to retrieve it. Later I discovered the tooth had never left my mouth. It was just pounded upward, its root poking through my nasal cavity.

Had I known back then about an aboriginal custom (from New South Wales, Australia) of the adolescent’s front tooth being knocked out as part of their initiation rite into adulthood, it may have added meaning for me. But all I could think of then was how I was going to ‘catch it’ at home for not “using my head.”

There was nothing mystical about the lessons the slide taught me that day. They seemed like setbacks in life. Ready or not, I learned about the limitations of my imagined athletic abilities. And about the guilt of adding dental bills to an already strained family budget. I also learned how to stretch the truth around my father’s temper. When he wanted to know how it happened. I said, “It had just rained, and the grass was slippery. I don’t remember falling, but I must have slipped.” All true statements; it just wasn’t the whole truth. I never told them otherwise.

My parents and I sat in the waiting room at Aultman Hospital until well past midnight. Surgery was required to pull my incisor back down into place and then braces to hold it there.

A few weeks later we were told my tooth couldn’t be saved, after all. But the experience had taught me much that was truly new. The expression, “school of hard knocks,” made total sense to me after that.

I always preferred the other kind of teachers who seemed to appear out of nowhere with their glistening, new ideas. The ones whose teachings deeply resonated with how I saw the world and what was true for me. They inspired a joy of learning and seemed to know how to take me to a new level at the very moment I was ready to grow. At least I thought I was growing in new directions.

Near the end of his life, philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal (1860), that we only receive what we are ready to receive. At first glance he seems to support the idea that our readiness is the magnet that will attract a new teaching. But he was lamenting about how we limit ourselves in what we’re able to receive.

Thoreau goes on to say, “We hear and apprehend only what we already half know. If there is something which does not concern me, which is out of my line, which by experience or by genius my attention is not drawn to, however, novel or remarkable it may be, if it is spoken we hear it not, if it is written we read it not. . .”

In other words, we tend to welcome only that information which fits in with what we already believe to be true. Our newly found sources and teachers simply reinforce the old beliefs we hold dear. It explains how so many opinionated people with diverse conclusions about a topic all find ample evidence to prove they’re right. And assume everything else must be fake news.

How often I've harboured a self-righteous delight when I find others who help me solidify my point of view. Is it possible to imagine my world view is expanding, while actually I grow more rigid in my stance?

Perhaps the teachers that sneak up on us, that catch us off guard--ready or not--are the only ones that can teach us something new. Sometimes it takes hard knocks in life to jolt us out of what we already know.

~K L Kurtz


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