Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lessons Given, Lessons Learned


Every time I slice open an orange, I think of my friend Raul. I was at his house about to peel an orange one day when he said, “You want me to show you a cool way to cut an orange?” I nodded and he took the knife, sliced off the ends, cut it into three equal parts, flipped it up and then cut down the middle. “See?” he said. “Now you can just eat the slices.”

He handed me the knife and watched me do it. Then we stood in the cool of the kitchen, eating orange slices and talking about life. I have not eaten an orange any other way since that day.



When I was eight years old my grandmother showed me how to make a bed. She stood across the bed and floated the sheet out my way. I caught it and listened to her instructions and watched her hands as she went through it with me step-by-step. Her voice was full of confidence in me as I fumbled with the corners.

In the last step she and I karate-chopped the comforter under the pillows, laughter erupting from both of us. She smiled at me, put her hands on her hips and said, “Now that’s the way you make a bed!”



It was my freshman year in college and I was overwhelmed. I was in the library of the university, a building bigger than my entire high school, trying to do research for a paper. In my high school the library had been a small room, with very few reference books. I had absolutely no idea how to find information in the library. (No computers, no Google, no data bases at this time, children!) I stood on the fourth floor of the library. Shelf after shelf after shelf of reference books towered above me. Then, Karla, a girl from a small town near mine appeared. She asked me what I was doing. I explained. She put down her books and showed me how to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and then how to find the magazines in the library’s stacks. After about thirty minutes, I sat at one of the library’s broad tables, surrounded by riches in the form of books and magazines.

Karla nonchalantly said goodbye and disappeared, as I sat dazed and astounded. She had unlocked a golden door for me and then had given me the key.


We go through our formative years surrounded by those whose role it is to teach us. Parents, coaches, educators, tutors and trainers all set about to teach us how to operate in the world. Their role is understood and so is ours. We go to them to learn something and they teach it. It is a somewhat formal dance, set to an old music, full of rules, conventions, and obligations to one another.

However, there are also those magic moments in life when we are in the right place at the right time and someone steps forward and takes the time to teach us something new or different. The lesson can take thirty seconds or last hours; the experience can be simple and silly or life-changing. The formal role of teacher/student does not exist in these exchanges. One person offers a hand to another and the dance begins. It is an informal dance full of improvisation, a freestyle jig, a happy give-and-take of steps.

I have lost track of my friend Karla, but when I go to the library and run my eyes over the books on the shelf, I smile and think of her. Just when I needed it, she gave this small town girl a way to conquer the bigger world and to discover even larger universes.

When I make my bed and smooth over the sheets, it is my grandmother’s hands I see. I hear her voice at the end of the process “Now that’s the way to make a bed!” and I thank her for giving that shy, insecure eight year-old the time and attention she so desperately needed.

Raul is gone now. My friend died after a battle with cancer. I watched him as he battled with, and then accepted his fate with grace and dignity.

I’d like to thank him for his small gesture of friendship that has come to symbolize so much. I cup my hands around an orange and desperately wish that he could be here now, talking about life and eating oranges with me.

I know I can’t thank him now, so I do the next best thing. I watch for friends fumbling with oranges and I say, “Hey, do you want me to show you a really cool way to cut that?”

And the dance begins….

80 comments:

Bouncin' Barb said...

What an awesome post. I'm sorry you lost your friend but like I always say, they are never really gone as long as they are remembered. An orange is a great symbol isn't it?

Out on the prairie said...

Very nice, we sometimes forget who helped us and forget returning that favor to others.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A wonderful post, so sad and sorry you lost your friend,

Yvonne.

Desiree said...

This is a truly inspired post. Full of love and gratitude. You have 'paid it forward' in a big way!

Mamma has spoken said...

What a great tribute to those who teach us what seems like the little things but in the end it is so much more!

Seams Inspired said...

Beautifully inspiring this morning, Betty. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. May his memory be eternal. (((HUGS))) to you, sweet bloggy friend.

Madi and Mom said...

Oh my goodness....BB what a beautiful post....that has nearly left this Southern girl speechless.

It reminded me of my G-ma showing me how to make her famous Chicken and Pastry dish(some call it Chicken and Dumplings). I was always amazed that she never once broke one of the long pastries in half...she told me the secret was NO stirring!!!
Thank you,
C

Susan in the Boonies said...

Moments that slip in silently, unannounced, yet become quietly pivotal, all due to the generosity of spirit of our tutor. Beautiful, unheralded blessings: thanks for helping me notice.

~hug~

The Vegetable Assassin said...

That was really lovely! And I'm totally trying that orange thing.

Tabor said...

Such an inspiring post. You have reminded me to keep my eyes open to helping others for no reason other than I like to dance!

Munir said...

I think it would be a great tribute to him, to show some one else what he taught you. Next time I buy oranges I will try to cut them Raul's way. My prayers are with his loved ones.

Munir said...

I think it would be a great tribute to him, to show some one else what he taught you. Next time I buy oranges I will try to cut them Raul's way. My prayers are with his loved ones.

Leanne said...

You always make me smile, dear Betty. And the organe slices? Let the lesson begin, for now I shall try cutting it that way, too. Really wonderful post.

Leah J. Utas said...

What a beautiful post, Betty. Thank you.

Parsley said...

WHAAAAAH...you trying to make me cry like a baby?!

Great post!

Ami said...

I am inspired to go buy oranges today on my way home from physical therapy.

And teach my kids how to eat them the RIGHT way.

:)

Mellisa Rock said...

Wonderful post. You are going to have to show us step-by-step this orange cutting thing. I am still peeling albeit with a spoon. :)

While reading I was reminded of my step-dad taking the time to teach me how to put things together. Instead of just doing it himself...he would read the instructions with me and allow me to take my time. Now when ever we buy something that needs assembly I always think of him as I go step-by-step. :)

Have a great week.

Hilary said...

A beautiful post. What a lovely way for these folks to live on in your life. In the opportunity of books, the comfort of your bed and the sunshine of an orange.

Simon C. Larter said...

Lovely, good lady. I shall now cut my oranges that way as well, and think of you.

Cheers!

S.

Chrissy MacCEO said...

Remarkable post. It left me thinking of the little things I've learned from others who have shaped my life in big ways. Thanks!

Donna said...

Your friend knows...What a sweet tribute Betty!
You ought to do a video on the orange cutting method...I'm dense!Hahaaa
hughugs

Momma Fargo said...

Great story, Betty! When things like that remind us of those great moments with great people...it is a wonderful thing in life...memories. It's when we forget that is sad.

PS. Everytime I slice open an orange I think about the $1.20 it cost me and that maybe I am living too high on the hog...LOL

baygirl32 said...

awsome post Betty! I think I might cut my orange that way now too.

Pearl said...

What a great post, Betty. Those who teach us touch our lives forever...

Pearl

CaveGirl said...

I really enjoyed this! it's so true that little acts can stay with us forever. Great post!

Susan Fields said...

That gave me goosebumps. I'm sorry to hear that Raul lost his battle with cancer, but it's wonderful to know that he's touched your heart forever with his simple gesture. This is definitely something to remember when we see someone struggling - these small moments can mean more than we'd ever imagine.

Barbara said...

This is so true - just small gestures that keep friends and family with us forever. Not really so small after all. Beautiful post!

Shan said...

Loved this. I'm off to reminisce about some of the lessons I've learned and the people who taught them.

A Rural Journal said...

This is a lovely post and is a good reminder that it's not only wonderful to be the student, but to also be a teacher every one and a while. :)

Linda said...

Very nice Betty...we have all learned lessons from one another and carry those with us for a long time. We also pass those on. The way I slice an apple is...across, not through the center in quarters but slice it through, It's just fun.
thank you so much for your comment. I can't wait for Spring and more sunshine.

Mrs.C said...

Beautiful post, glad to have found your blog. Can't wait to read more!

Retired English Teacher said...

First of all, let me just say that I am more than happy that you discovered my blog, and that I, in turn, discovered yours. You blog is absolutely lovely. I love the bright, cheery look of it.

Secondly, I loved this wonderful post. You must be a darn good English teacher. I loved this line: "She stood across the bed and floated the sheet my way." Then, you recalled how you "fumbled with the corners" What can I say? Your word choice is perfect.

Finally, your memories of those who have taught you so much of the simple things of life and the basics of gaining a education were very touching and memorable.

Brian said...

Friends will always be with us, no matter how you slice it!

Avisek-The Martian said...

What an wonderful idea !!! Some things just get embedded in the memory !!!!

Cindi aka Ericksoc said...

Beautiful post - you never know who your next teacher is going to be, or whose you'll be and how they'll remember you. And gosh - I haven't thought of the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature in YEARS! Fond memories - thanks for sharing.

Old Kitty said...

I am now going to buy me the loveliest orange and slice it up in tribute and memory to the amazing Raul!!!

Take care
x

Katherines Corner said...

I love this post my bloggy friend. Wonderful memories sneek into your daily life. Lessons learned friends made, and positive memories. I am truly sorry for the loss of your friend but grateful that you shared these lovely and fun lessons and memories with us.
Hugs Katherine
P.S. you know I'm going to cut my ornage like that next time ;-)

blueviolet said...

And in this blog, I feel like you're doing something very similar to those people so thank you.

As an aside, I remember navigating that guide to periodicals. I'd forgotten it completely until you mentioned it here.

Anne Gallagher said...

Thank you to you and Raul for teaching me the right way to cut an orange.

Ann said...

Wonderful story as usual Betty. You always have the best way of looking at things.

Brian Miller said...

smiles. we should all give these gentle nods to teh people that made impressions on our lives...nice post.

jenny_o said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. This is a lovely tribute to your friend.

Sweet memories. And bittersweet.

I've been close to tears reading some of your other posts, but with this one, they finally spilled over.

Laura Greene said...

Awwww, that made me a little teary eyed. Great post. You have a new follower!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

What a terrific way to always remember your friend. I hope I've been there for a few people at the right moment over the years.

Noelle said...

Your posts have such a way of touching my heart. Thank you so much!

Gigi said...

This one made me tear up! I keep trying and trying to impart some lessons - but no one seems to be listening right now.

I'm so glad that you had these people in your life to show you "the way" and that you listened.

Linda said...

This is yet another lovely post, BB. It's a good reminder that something we do for someone else may seem trifling to us but may create life-altering memories for them.

Marlene said...

You write such heart-string tugging posts. :)

I rarely eat oranges because I'm too stinkin' lazy to peel 'em. Guess I don't have an excuse now, eh?

Jules said...

Beautiful post Betty, if we all could just remember those simple shaping moments a bit more often. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Daisy said...

Betty, this is so well-written. Beautiful, true, and from the heart. Loved this. Also, the next time I eat an orange, I'm going to try it your way. Thanks. :-)

Flartus said...

Love it. And now you've passed Raul on to the rest of us. May I be remembered so well...

Brian (not the cat) said...

Thanks for this trifecta of beautiful thoughts.

Ms. A said...

Some of my most cherished times were when I would show my kids, or my students, how to do something and even after struggling to accomplish it, the satisfaction was greater for me than it was for them, when they finally got it!

I always felt like I left them with a little piece of myself.

gigi said...

"However, there are also those magic moments in life when we are in the right place at the right time and someone steps forward and takes the time to teach us something new or different."

Truer words were never spoken. And it's only if it's happened to you that you understand its power.

Miriam in KS said...

Thank you for sharing this rich, rich post with us.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

This is very touching, Betty. The next time I cut an orange, I will slice it that way in Raul's memory.
xoRobyn

Theanne and Baron said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful post...made me think of the times that others have given me a hand, have helped me to learn something new, have been there. It makes me happy and sad at the same time but mostly happy :)

slommler said...

What beautiful stories Betty!! You share them so eloquently!! Thank you thank you thank you!!
I will think of you now as I try to cut an orange!!
Hugs
SueAnn

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss betty! i like this post. im just real lucky for so much people that teach me stuff. it real nice to remember and get a smile. i remember stuff my mom taught me before she died. just now im thinking on her garden & how she taught me how to plant stuff. :)
...hugs from lenny

Velvet Over Steel said...

Wonderful story, Betty!!! It gave me goose bumps at the end. So sorry about your friend, Raul.. but happy that he touched your life and heart so much! This post opened up my own memories/mind helping me to remember special people and the things they taught me throughout my life. Thank you!!

Have a Wonderful day & weekend!!!
Hugs,
Coreen XOXO

Cake Betch said...

This is really sweet, and totally true. The little things in life always end up meaning the most.

floweringmama said...

Wow, Betty, this post generated a lot of comments! You should feel proud. Proud because you have a way with words that touch people and make us think.

Joanna Jenkins said...

This made me smile and cry all at the same time. Such wonderful life lessons and knowing that you recognize and cherish them and the people who taught you... well... big sigh.. that's wonderful.

Dance on!
jj

annie said...

You wrote out the feelings of so many.
Just lovely.
Thanks

Lazarus said...

The first word I was going to use to describe this post was the first word used by the first poster...awesome. A truly excellent job, just what a blog is supposed to deliver!

Pat Tillett said...

What an amazing post my friend. It kind of got to me. If only I'd followed more of the advice (lessons) given to me by my grandmother. I didn't even remember most of them until I was much older.
This was a great tribute to your friend. With that memory in your heart, he'll never totally be gone...

Lin said...

It's amazing how something so simple can stay with you forever. Wouldn't it be amazing if we knew at that very moment, that we would remember this forever? Then you could give that person an extra hug--just for that memory.

I will always treasure the woman who taught me how to quilt. In face, when I see her, I always thank her for that. She must be sick of me saying it, but I do really appreciate that she taught me something that I treasure so.

Catherine said...

What a beautiful post Betty! I am sure your friend would be very touched that you are passing on his orange finesse!

It's sometimes those little things that we hold dearest to our heart when we think of those we love.

Fantastic!
xo Catherine

Zuzana said...

What a beuatiful and poignant post! Loved every word...
Yes, in life we never know who we meet. Sometimes the shortest encounters result in memories to last a lifetime. Kind people that cross our path, to become our teachers, at times in the simple and obvious way and at times in the more intricate and defining one.
Beautiful recollection of three such precious encounters in your life...
Have a lovely weekend,
xoxo

Cricket said...

This is wonderful, truly.

Funny how these people don't even have to be people we really know. I will be forever grateful to a random black man I met in a music store who took a few minutes to show a skinny white boy the right way to slap-and-pop a bass.

Secret of the temple, that was.

Green Monkey said...

really wonderful Betty!

I wrote a long comment and its gone.. so let me simply say that I love everything about your blog. It always makes me smile.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Coming through via POTW on Hilary's site. I think one of the best way to honor a person's memory is to pass on the gift of knowledge that they blessed us with. It's like a little piece of them lives on.

The Adorkable Ditz said...

My mom taught me this really cool way to fold shirts, my dad taught me how to drive, countless teachers taught me how to do scholarly stuff, my friends taught me to have a good time, my brother taught me to be patient, God taught me to love and giving.

Life is the teacher, just of different things.

Sandra said...

What a worthwhile read -- thought-provoking and well written. Very worthy of POTW.

Cricket said...

Just a return visit to say congratulations on your potw. I'm not a bit surprised. Well done.

Moannie said...

Ah, yes! All those steps along the way and the people at every crossroad to point us in the right direction; if we are wise enough to see them.

Lovely post and worthy of your POTW mention. congratulations.

Jayne said...

Betty- so true. I still remember my mom teaching me how to make "hospital corners" with the top sheet. Those moments are magic. Something clicks, we we have that image and memory we forever associate with another person in our lives. I loved this post. So thoughtful. Definitely POTW worthy. :)

ethelmaepotter! said...

I've often thought that the greatest legacy a person can leave for another is a memory - a good memory.

When my grandparents left this world, they left very little of material value...and what there was, naturally was divided among their offspring. What I got was memories. And I wouldn't trade them a for a million dollars.

Congrats on POTW!

Baby Sister said...

Isn't it amazing the things we can learn from others? I don't think I'll ever cut an orange the same way either.


p.s. POTW?

Jami said...

What a great post! I still remember my grandma teaching me to make a bed, hospital corners, the karate chop...etc. I am pretty strict about beds being made the right way now, in my own house. Like you, I think of her when I make the bed, and when I teach my daughter how to make it properly. The dance....so true.