A tale from the Desert Fathers:
There was an old hermit, very ascetical in body and holy in spirit but somehow unclear in his thoughts. This man went to see Abba John to ask him about forgetfulness. Having received a word of wisdom he returned to his cell but on the way back he forgot what Abba John had told him.
So he went back and got the same word. But once again, on the way back to his cell, he forgot it. This happened several times, he would listen to Abba John and on his way back to the cell, would be overcome by forgetfulness.
Many days later he happened to meet Abba Jon and he said, ‘Do you know, Father that I have once again forgotten what you told me? I would have come back again but I had been enough of a burden to you already and did not want to overburden you.’
Abba John said to him, ‘Go and light a lamp.’ The old man lit the lamp. Then Abba John said, ‘Bring in some more lamps and light them from the first one.’ This too the old man did.
Then Abba John said to the old man. ‘Did the first lamp suffer any loss from the fact that the other lamps are lit from it?’
‘No,’ said the old man.
‘Well then, so it is with John. If not only you but the world town were to come to me to seek help or advice I would not suffer the slightest loss. So come to me whenever you wish, without any hesitation.’
Adapted from The Prayer of the Frog (Volume II), Anthony de Mello, 2006, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash
This works as a companion piece to a previous post I wrote previously about lighting candles. Much like the previous post, this one’s inspired by something I read – though this time it was from an anthology of stories from all over the world collected by Jesuit Anthony de Mello. What I liked about the anthology was the fact that the stories were neither prescriptive nor overly profound and they were there without additional interpretive bits. We were to read and draw our own conclusions from the stories
Abba John’s beautiful statement at the end of the story sums up what I hope to become as a person and educator – realising that in teaching or rendering aid one suffers no loss whatsoever and one should thus be as open as one can possibly be in our dealings with others. I can remember countless times when I was unnecessarily curt or hurried with my students when they came to me with doubts or additional questions. Being an educator is all about being available – being there for our students when and where they need us most. After all, if not us then who else?
This idea of being available was emphasised by my work here. The programme that we’re running is aimed at enabling the local students to get better jobs and placements in higher educational institutions. They’re very used to the ‘normal’ top-down instruction and do very well in that system. Our introducing of student-centred learning came as a little bit of a shock to them and much support had to be given to them. Teaching was not just getting information or skills across – it was introducing a whole new system of learning and reassuring them that they are in indeed learning as well or better than they used to. It was this support to their learning that really helped make the difference and being able to be there and connect with them beyond the class helped too.
I remember sometimes giving the excuse of ‘having too much work to do’ when it came to setting aside time for students or others around me. How often do we get caught up with ancillary activities that take us away from the real job of educating our students? Our ‘work’ should be spending time with those we are supposed to educate. We often forget that our main job is to do as Abba John does and that being there for our students shouldn’t quite take much from us seeing that we are supposed to be educators after all. That’s one of the reasons why I feel most alive in the classroom interacting with the students and that’s why I still consider myself to be an educator. And be that light to the other lamps I must be as well.