Saturday, January 11, 2014

Slow learning

On the bike, while I am moving time is often standing still.

The world goes by at a pace that feels natural. Everything seems more tangible, easier to remember. The trees standing like so, the fields, the hills watching over them since geologic time. Next time I pass this way, they'll still be here.
This is my excuse for being stunned at the news that on New Year's Day one of my host dads passed away. I got to see him 6 weeks ago, after Sydney Melbourne. He and his wife Phil, in the same house with the kitchen table I remember, the sliding glass doors out to the pool and beautiful garden all around.

We had tea. Eddie carried the cups since Phil uses a walker now. There was a photo, me at 16, pinned to the wall with many others. Many stories of a life together. He looked at me and said "Look at you, all grown up!"

I thought I'd be wiser by now.

Looking at Google Maps, trying to reconstruct the experience of riding Sydney Melbourne, in my head it's Eddie's voice saying the names like Beechworth, Shepparton, the Grampians, Bright, the Snowies. Wagga Wagga (actually just, Wagga). Benalla, Yarra Glen. He never lost the places he'd been.

Somehow he knew of Silicon Valley and even had a personal computer when they were rare. In 1982 (!) somehow he knew it was the Next Big Thing. Over tea at the table I got to tell him, he was right.

Living with Eddie and Phil at the house was their intellectually disabled son. Also a character. They accepted him completely. Appreciated him for who he was. It was a powerful example, one that has taken years to absorb.

Everything I learned was still there, in that tricky way of memory. Feeling accepted in their home, not a stranger any more. Sharing food and experiences and eventually, who we are.

Fifty years from now someone with a PhD will do a study. It will show that human beings learn and remember and function better in the presence of empathy. That it changes us, forging new and different neural pathways. It will show that the changes last longer, are far more resilient than anyone expected.

How lucky are those of us, who already know.

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