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Life’s Outrageous Teachers


I know an extraordinary amount of things most people would find trivial, boring or shocking. For instance, I can discuss tertiary yaws, microscopic survivors from the Cenozoic Era that bore into the soft tissue of human feet and cause spontaneous amputation of the toes. I can give a scientific dissertation on how tomato, potato and eggplant peels, when treated with 2-4-6 dimethyloxytropinone, could make every person in a small town hallucinate and swing from street lights like monkeys in an urban jungle.

…and I know far more than I care to about the sexual appetites of some of America’s favorite rock stars.

My formal education has taken me from being able to read a book, by myself, at the age of three; play a passable version of Rachmaninoff’s piano Prelude in C Sharp Minor when I was 12; come close to flunking my senior year of high school and finish college after two aborted attempts. None of my teachers made much of an impression except my college journalism professor. He taught me to compose my thoughts at the keyboard, then to convey them in an inverted pyramid style; skills for which I am forever grateful.

My informal education is full of unorthodox and often outrageous teachers who taught me how to corner a 2,000-pound, three-liter, rear-engine car at 120 miles-per-hour… without losing control; how to tether myself to a helicopter in-flight, sit on the landing skids and take pictures without falling off and how to hang by one arm from the back of a moving train, then hoist myself successfully back onboard. Incase you’re wondering, none of my teachers are still among the living.

The variety of subject matter I’ve been exposed to has failed to fit the profile of any standard educational curriculum. It’s only been since breast cancer that I’ve learned how to be still in the moment and how to recognize and give thanks for my many blessings.

I’ve learned how to have real girlfriends I go to lunch with and to talk about feelings, as opposed to being in the company of men and talking about power-to-weight ratios and return on investments. No longer am I looking for approval from a man, and I’ve learned to live what most people call a “normal life.” I’ve learned what real love is; the giving of self; the grace of God; come to terms with the duplicity of man and have realized that ego and fear of knowing the truth can be all encompassing.

The great scientist, Louis Pasteur, said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” I hope my convoluted mass of gray matter continues to seize life’s opportunities, while surviving its fragilities. Perhaps the last frontier of earthly knowledge will be an all-encompassing acceptance and wisdom that comes as we take our last breath. If so, I hope I learn that, too.

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20 thoughts on “Life’s Outrageous Teachers”

  1. Oh Brenda. This piece really spoke to me. I too have all sorts of random academic knowledge (how to fashion a greek chiton, the Black–Scholes–Merton model, the prologue to the Canterbury Tales.) In the end, the only things I’ve used are Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the fundamentals of critical thinking because that applies to everything. I wish they taught in school things like how to spot a narcissist at 300 paces, and who to call when your life has just imploded, and how to sit and be still with your thoughts when your personality type drives you to run around doing 8 million things. I wish they focused on how to not worry, and why it’s important to get a second medical opinion, and how ought to negotiate when buying a piece of high-end jewelry. I’m glad your life has provided you with so many rich learning opportunities even though, I’m sure, many of them have come at a price. xo

    • Jen! We have a lot in common… I could have added most of those things to my blog. Spotting the narcissist is now one of my specialties. They come, disguised in all manner of beings, so it’s not always as easy as one might assume. xoxox, Brenda

  2. What a rich and adventurous life you’ve had, Brenda! It does seem that, no matter what our backgrounds, we reach a point in life when we treasure authenticity, lasting relationships and pursuing what has eternal value. God has beautifully orchestrated your life to bring you to this very time, and you are certainly making the most of it! What a blessing to know you.

    • Susan, Oh, how I wish I still played the piano. Perhaps I should say, have the time to practice. Some day, I want to play guitar like Keith Richards. xoxox, Brenda

  3. Isn’t it interesting how, if we pay attention as we age, we learn the most amazing lessons of all? We think we’re so smart when we’re young, but it’s life experience that seasons and teaches us.

    • Before I started dating my first husband, we knew one another, but not well. At a party, he told me I had everything it took… (whatever that meant), I just needed someone to take my brain out and play basketball with it. I knew what he meant, that I needed to be seasoned. Still, his phrasing sounded like the worst thing you could wish on someone.

  4. Love this! Gosh, I would love to have lunch with you one day to talk about the outrageous and unorthodox in your lessons and ventures. And about the “real” feelings too. Thanks for posting.

    • I’m glad you liked it, Pennie. Thanks for reading. I could post one of these a month and never run out of outrageous and unorthodox lessons I’ve learned. Brenda

  5. OMG, the adventures you’ve had! It’s great to get to this stage of life and realize life itself is an amazing teacher, isn’t it? I’ve always felt I missed out because I never went to college, but I’ve never lost my desire to learn. I was never as adventurous as you but, I so admire your chutzpah! Living, really living, is the best teacher of all.

    • Barbara, There’s nothing like when life grabs you by the seat of your pants, hoists you up to the sky, then drops you flat on your ass. You can’t learn what to do next in college. xoxox, Brenda

  6. I love my “real” girlfriends…they are my friends from elementary school and we recently reconnected. They get me and know the real me.Love this Brenda!

    • I know… Old friends are the best friends. My two best girlfriends since high school are still my two best girlfriends. Thanks so much, Renee.

  7. I remember our talk over dinner at last years BAM conference, Brenda. You certainly have lived an interesting life. I too have found the ability to live more fully into the moment after breast cancer, so I can very much relate to this. Love 1010 Park Place, by the way (although I miss your earlier blog a bit, still, as well).

    • Claudia, While I loved writing BreastCancerSisterhood, I reached the point where I couldn’t write about cancer any longer. I’m still writing about life and what to do next…. xoxox, Brenda

  8. Being home-schooled allowed me the advantage of also being able to learn other lessons via my parents; learning to sail in the most southern waters of Australia and learning how to survive in remote wilderness, were two of my favourites. I enjoyed my excellent formal education when the time came, but it felt very restrictive, yet I do love doing courses. What I’ve noticed however, is that the emphasis placed on formal education is frequently becoming a way of bending us all into being the same with a high tolerance for restrictive jobs that keep us ‘safe’. And that many, many people choose to continue their education and do endless courses rather than taking a leap and actually giving their dreams a go. Again, they hide in the ‘safety’ of learning rather than doing. I value my academic education, but – like you – it’s the lessons life taught me that I value most of all. And you can’t learn much if you’re not out there living! Essie xx

    • Essie, Brillant point. I meet so many people… mainly Millennials… who are getting another degree, but have yet to use their first degree in a practical, real world situation. I spoke with a 30 something man, yesterday, who’s getting a Masters in Social Policy. When I asked him what he was going to do with it, my eyes glazed over…………. I love that you know how to sail and navigate the water as well as the remote wilderness. We’ll make a good pair if we get stuck, together, in the middle of nowhere. xoxox, Brenda

  9. You have become one of my favorite writers. So eloquent. I am often called a know-it-all and it used to really hurt my feelings. No more! I am proud that I actually lived and am living each and every day and have a story for nearly every situation

    • Thank you, sweet lady! We have stories to tell because we’ve engaged with life and those around us, not just the illusion of life on our digital screens. I’m so glad i captured lightning bugs and roller-skated with my friends instead of playing video games, aren’t you? Today’s kids make me worry about tomorrow’s world. xoxo, Brenda

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