When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
And when the lesson is over, be it days or years, that’s usually when the scenery changes, for me.
I have a steady cast of characters in my life—my family and very close friends.
But I also have an ever-changing ensemble. I like to think of these people as my teachers.
I don’t mean teachers, as in formal education. I mean in the school of life. The school most of us souls come to endure so we can become more enlightened.
My teachers have been wise and stupid. Serious and comedic. I guess whatever I needed at the time; I learned from their wisdom and as well as their mistakes. Some were a model to emulate, others a cautionary tale.
They come in and out of my life to school me in specific lessons and then circumstances or deliberate action take them out of a starring role in my story.
For instance, in my twenties, I went to a doctor who combined Eastern and Western medicine. She could treat sinusitis with acupuncture and Chinese herbs as well as she could list out the major medical terms for every body part.
She had a long, thick mane of dark hair, an unconventional life and a flair for the dramatic. Think a huge room with nothing in it but a claw-foot tub and hundreds of candles for her nighttime bathing ritual. Think a wedding reception for 100 guests in a huge ballroom with nothing but one long table down the middle of the room. Oh, and the orchestra, of course. Suz was nothing if not dramatic.
For several years, she would tell me of her adventures as she treated me. Her house on Cape Cod, her frequent world travels, triathlons completed, men she took as lovers. We had become friends. Her annual Christmas party was as eclectic as one might expect and something I made sure never to miss.
She would counsel me on maintaining my independence in relationships, on which new restaurants were the best bet, on raising strong children.
I watched her move from a dicey part of town where cabs hesitated to make pickups, to a small bungalow in an up-and-coming ethnic area of the city, to a large, custom-built home in a trendy neighborhood.
I watched her daughter grow from a tiny wisp of a thing that was all dark eyes and hair to a beautiful young woman headed for Julliard.
As time passed, my doctor did not change all that much. But I did. I grew into myself. I matured. I figured out what did and did not work in my life. That’s what your twenties are for, right? At least for some of us.
And that, my friends, made all the difference.
The procession of men in and out of her life, the one that used to seem so glamorous, started to scream to me of too much drama.
After her marriage fell apart and her kids rebelled against her nomadic tendencies, we had an exchange in which the change in our relationship really hit me. She went after much younger men, boasting of her conquests and how she still had “it.” And all I could think of was—what the hell is “it” compared to a solid marriage and kids who feel you are their rock no matter what? If “it” is just a body in great shape, not much. My version of “it” was so much more—honesty, wisdom, kindness, a sense of humor.
I did not judge. Or I tried not to judge. But I realized what I had perceived many moons before as glamorous and independent was also restless and sometimes thoughtless. Full of ego, not wisdom.
Life was giving me the gift of seeing how far I had come. Of clarifying my values, what I wanted. It didn’t have to be what she or anyone else wanted, but I realized the lens through which I viewed things had changed without my noticing.
Similar bits have happened in the years since. The friend who seemed so bubbly and funny, the one who helped me to remember I had a sense of humor, began to look like someone constantly needing to be the center of attention. And her jokes were often at the expense of someone else. The therapist who helped me through a tough time had no new insights to offer after I grew exponentially from that tough time.
These changes in no way make one party superior to the other. They just mean that if you pay attention, life will tell you when it is time to move on. Another teacher awaits.
And you cannot hear a new teacher when you have an old one speaking in the other ear. It is cacophony.
As I’ve aged, I have learned not to idolize those who have something to teach me. I welcome them. I let them have the floor, to speak at will. And I trust that I am learning what it supposed to come at this moment.
Then I respect the moving on, if it is meant to happen.