One Good Phrase: Annie Barnett (Everyone is learning)

I love Annie Barnett because the kindness that shows up in her writing and visual art is an actual reflection of who she is. I love her because she is an artist soul and when you see her illustrations, you feel a sort of hope. Last year, she wrote here about the sacred work of creating. So happy to have her back again today. 

 

A decade ago, I took the helm of a public school fourth grade classroom. Along with the curriculum, I was handed several dozen workbooks filled with sample standardized tests, in order to prepare my students for the new testing regime. I quietly opted out of the workbooks, and instead choose extra long read-alouds after lunch, hoping they’d beg for just one more chapter.

I can still remember the hush that came over the room as I finished the last sentence of C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. Their little mouths hung open, and their hands stopped sketching scenes from the story. When I read that last word, we all just sat with the ache of a good book finished, all the wonder of Narnia being sung into creation, palpable in that stale classroom air. I didn’t have much experience, but I knew in my bones that if I could impart one single thing to those students, it would be a life-long love of learning.

At the time I thought life-long learning had to do mostly with keeping wonder and curiosity alive, feeding them on a steady diet of reading and the scientific method.  I still think so, but what I didn’t know then, was that this life-long learning business would seep into my relationships and business, my parenting and spirituality.

Everyone is learning.

I’m not sure when I first uttered those words.

I have a feeling it started during that magical year when my three year old, equipped with a a state-of-the-art firstborn justice-detector, began giving me the side-eye in regards to her baby sister. When the baby would sling mashed avocado across the kitchen, the elder would raise her little eye-brows, wait to see if the punishment fit the crime.

Or maybe it was our one solitary attempt at pee-wee soccer last spring, when three children hogged the ball at all cost, and others roamed the field, altogether unaware that a ball was involved in the sport. Why were they doing that?

“Everyone is learning” became a common refrain when the girls asked the kind of honest questions that adults often stop asking out loud. They’d grapple with why some friends already knew how to ride a two-wheeler, or didn’t know how to swim. They’d notice when other kids, or they themselves, or sometimes even grown-ups, did and didn’t have some capability or skill, and we’d come around to this again:

Everyone is learning. 

It became the line that summed up the empathy and patience we wanted to instill in our children, and that I, apparently, was still learning.

When my sister died, I grappled with the reality that those closest to me grieved at different times, in different ways than I did.  We were all walking a new road, but the loneliness of that season blurred my ability to remember that.

In the hard days of marriage, I find my shoulders relax and I unclench my jaw when I remember that we are learning to love each other still.  When we listen to the ways our words have wounded, or the places we feel forgotten, and come back to the center together, we are putting into practice the vows we made when we thought we already knew everything about love. I hope we are always learning to love again.

Some of us, sometimes, are well aware of how much we are learning. I have felt awkward and amateur starting an Etsy shop and beginning to illustrate children’s books.  Some of us are learning with desperation, soaking up anything we can to wrap our minds around an eating disorder or the ache of depression or the stress of a new job. We are well aware of our status of learners when we are faced with how little we know of algorithms, or cancer or speaking the language that unlocks a spouse’s heart.

Other times, though, we are learning unaware, and will only realize much later that we were learning still, in the very moments we felt so sure.  There are stories and principles from my parents and grandparents that I am just uncovering now, little seeds planted decades ago when I was too confident I knew everything to understand the goodness they were sowing.

I want my girls to know that while we have certain expectations and consequences in our home, we are all learning, and we do well to remember that others are too. And maybe it’s all semantics, a small shift in perspective, but it helps me always to remember that there is a goodness to being small, and having so much to learn still.

Everyone is learning.

 

Annie Barnett is a creative soul who pours her days into her family and her art. She writes sporadically at AnnieAtHome.com, chronicling her broken, grace-filledjourney of playing house and centering her heart on her true home. She loves to make a good mess – whether it’s curry, painting, or play. In the last year, she’s stepped tentatively out into a new space, offering her prints on Etsy and slowly entering the conversation about art and faith at BeSmallStudios.com. Follow along on Facebook or Twitter.

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