Education can take many different forms and come in unexpected ways. I was raised in what used to be a rural Georgia town. We lived on a dirt road, and I could pick black berries and eat persimmons and muscadines, which grew wild. It was an idyllic childhood that favored the imagination.
When I went to college, I chose an all women’s private college, which provided me a top-notch academic education. I was exposed to all kinds of speakers and scholars, from Shirley Chisholm, to Sam Nunn to Eugenia Clark (the “shark lady”). I remember Dr. Clark mostly because I tripped and fell down the stairs while talking to her on our way to lunch before her seminar. I can still see those uneven brown stairs of Taylor Hall that used to lead to the ampitheater where Dr. Clark was speaking.
After college I went to the University of Texas at Austin to begin my graduate studies. Never before had I considered Grackle guano as a travel hazard, but, I can assure you the icy sidewalks of Wisconsin have nothing on the Grackle guano of the UT Austin campus in terms of hazardous walking, running or biking conditions.
One of the first things our program did for the new graduate students was host a series evening sessions in which the faculty presented their research to the new students. The seminar met on the third floor of a rather run down laboratory building. The first seminar was held one evening after a stormy day, and the left-over cloud scud lent an eerie quality to the twilight sky. The scheduled faculty member arrived, late, drunk and wielding large Pyrex beaker from which he continued to guzzle a dark brown beer. He attempted to talk science while belching alcohol fumes. The Grackles screeched and swarmed from tree to tree outside as night descended, and the remaining clouds periodically pelted the windows with their remaining drops. It was a scene straight out of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
I didn’t learn any science that evening, but I did go back to my dorm apartment and write a lot in my journal.
Before I arrived in Austin, homeless street-corner prophets, professional pan handlers, and frankly, the homeless, were not real in my life. But Austin is the state capital of Texas and warm, so homeless population is an integral part of the city. Shortly after I arrived on campus, perched atop a soap box on the corner across from the building where I studied was a stringy-haired, street-corner “prophet” proclaiming his words of condemnation and doom to the world. “We openly condemn in others the things we most dislike about our selves.” He cried.
I have never been able to shake his words from my mind, because they had a ring of truth about them. I have often wondered: Are we quickest to criticize other people when their actions and words reflect our own short comings? What about our children? My daughter is only three, but when I am most irritated with her is it when she is doing things that remind me of the less glorious parts of myself? There is a Christian teaching that goes something like this: do not bother with the splinter in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own. I suspect that the street corner prophet in Austin had something important to say on that subject. Perhaps, we are quick to condemn in others the things we most dislike about ourselves.
Maybe, if we stop and listen to ourselves when we are criticizing others, we can learn something about how to improve ourselves.
I only spent a year in Austin. Admittedly, I didn’t learn much science, but I did get an amazing education about life, one that still gives me plenty to think about, even if it’s only the chance words over heard from a soap-box, street corner prophet.
© 2010 Michele Arduengo. All Rights Reserved.