Elizabeth Birch is spending a year in Mexico City volunteering at an orphanage through the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. This is a recent post from her blog, “The Year She Spent in Mexico.” To support Elizabeth, or others in the program, go here.
At the convent I have this friend, Sister Margarita. After lunch we get together and chat for a little while to better her English, and my Spanish. Every Thursday she greets me eager to learn more words and pronunciations. She is in her 80s and began teaching herself English at a young age. Her tactic, she tells me, is reading the Bible in English and translating sentences over to Spanish. What incredible patience is needed for that. But little by little she learns the translations and says them out loud to practice the pronunciation. I envy her patience. Most of these women, as I have said, have multiple degrees and are extremely intelligent. Margarita was a school teacher for some 50 years. And she’s never quit learning. We talk about what’s the latest book she has read or what interesting article she wants to share with me. As if her commitment to learning wasn’t impressive enough, she taught herself piano as well. Sometimes I listen when she practices and her talent is amazing! She told me she also really wants to start up the violin, she loves how it sounds. One awe-inspiring lady.
One of the men I spend Thursday mornings drinking coffee with always has a new question for me every week. Last week’s: Who was the president before Lincoln? As a U.S. history buff, I was ashamed I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head. But as soon as I gave him the answer the Internet told me, James Buchanan, he had another. This week I have a list of questions to answer for him. He tells me this time period in American history interests him because of all the social unrest and would like to find a connection to all the unrest to Mexico. I stood there in awe. I told him I’d get right on it for next week so we could discuss more of his theories. I feel odd to say that his interest in history shocked me. As a man who lives in the streets near the convent, how dare I think that he wouldn’t want to keep learning. He deserves to be a student forever too.
I find Sister Margarita and this man to be role models for me, because I hope I never lose my passion for learning. Because even with 80 plus years, Sister Margarita still can’t learn or teach herself enough. And because even though this man’s conditions should call for him to not care about furthering his education, when the opportunity arises for him to learn more, he takes it. I find it comforting to be in the presence of so many students of life. In this part of my life, soon to be a year out of college and figuring out my next step after YAGM, I think it’s time to finally be OK with the fact that I will never stop learning. And in some ways my YAGM year has been more fulfilling than any college class. Though I will never ever take my college education for granted, I am so lucky to have had that opportunity. But life can be a pretty good teacher as well.
May I have the patience to live old and never forget that I am always a student of life.