THINK ON THESE: Keep on learning

Recently, I met a friend who arrived from the United States three weeks ago. “I am staying here for good,” he told me. To prove it, he said he sold all his properties in the US. “The economy out there is not so good. I think it will become worse in the coming years.”

During out talk, he told me of another friend who is now living in Manila. This friend, he said, had been in college for several years already and he never managed to graduate. “Will you be a student for life?” His friend corrected, “No, I won’t be but I will always be a student of life.”

In a way, all of us are students of life. No one is spared from this fact. Every day, we go through things that we have not experienced before. “Life,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood.”

Here’s a story from Reader’s Digest: Goh Lay Kuan, Singapore’s doyenne of classical dance, was 19 when she commenced formal training as a classical ballerina. “Usually, a ballerina starts training seriously from 12,” she said, “so I counted the number of extra hours I needed to redeem the lost time and it came to ten hours a day.”

For three years while studying at the Victorian Ballet Guild in Melbourne, Australia, Goh worked with maniacal energy and determination, practicing up to ten hours a day, six days a week. Her efforts eventually paid off, and she graduated with honors.

In 1964, after working for various dance companies in Australia, Goh returned to Singapore where she discovered there was no arts scene to speak of. With her playwright husband, Kuo Pan Kun, she founded the Practice Performing Arts School and helped push dance into the cultural mainstream while forging a reputation as one of the nation’s premier dancers.

Starting from scratch in Singapore, she said, “taught me the philosophy that if you want to be a good cook, it’s important to learn how to cook with the minimum ingredient. Life is short and tortuous. One does not have a choice to arrive in or exit from this world. You just make the best of what you have.”

In other words, even if she already excelled in dancing, she was still a student when it comes to running a dance school. The good thing is that she never quit learning. She managed to come up with a principle that became her credo on life. “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through,” said Anais Nin.

All of us have to go through this journey called life. In the film, Star Trek: Generations, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) told the viewers: “Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again.”

“Love the moment,” Corita Kent urged. “Flowers grow out of dark moments. Therefore, each moment is vital. It affects the whole. Life is a succession of such moments and to live each, is to succeed.”

Journey is just one of the metaphors used by people to describe life. J. Richard Sneed reminded, “Life is described in one of four ways: as a journey, as a battle, as a pilgrimage, and as a race. Select your own metaphor, but the finishing necessity is all the same. If life is a journey, it must be completed. If life is a battle, it must be finished. If life is a pilgrimage, it must be concluded. And if it is a race, it must be won.”

Live life to the fullest — don’t be afraid to do new things. Get out from the boat, just like what Peter did when he saw Jesus Christ walking on top of the water. He wanted to experience what it was like to walk like what His Master did.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” Mark Twain advised. “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

“Security is mostly a superstition,” Helen Keller points out. “It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Or as James F. Bymes puts it: “Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem to be more afraid of life than death.”

And that is what learning is all about. When we were still students, we either pass or fail an examination. The same is true with life: We have our own highs and lows, ups and downs, happiness and sadness. When the world is seems against you, consider it as a challenge.

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it and call it hard names,” Henry David Thoreau reminded. “Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

If you will die today, will people remember you? And if they do, what kind of life they would remember? One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who had amassed a fortune manufacturing and selling weapons of destruction, awoke to read his own obituary in the newspaper. (Actually, it was his brother who had died, but a reporter mistakenly wrote Alfred’s obituary.)

For the first time, Alfred saw himself as the world saw him: “the dynamite king” and nothing more. Nothing was mentioned about his efforts at breaking down barriers between people and ideas. He was simply a merchant of death, and he would be remembered for that alone.

Alfred was horrified. He determined that the world would know the true purpose of his life. So, he wrote his last will and testament and left his fortune to establish the most coveted of all prizes: the Nobel Prize. Now, the world has forgotten his dynamite legacy.

“Live a good life,” Marcus Aurelius declared. “If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

But in the meantime, don’t stop learning. We are all students of life. “Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow,” Maria Mitchell urged.