Something From Everything  

We need great teachers (because we're all students)

Honouring our teachers

My youngest son was ready at 6 am.

Ready in spirit, in attitude and excitement of course, not ready in any tangible or physical way. The schoolbag was yet to be filled with indoor shoes, a lunch pack, and water bottle, and my son’s face still had traces of honey and peanut butter at the corners of his lips, his overgrown summer hair hanging messily just in front of his eyes.

So much for our intentions of a clean haircut before this, the first day of school earlier this month. Oh well, enough pomade can wrestle down even the most stubborn of hairs, faces can be rewashed, and bags can be packed quickly enough.

If he wasn’t ready in spirit, the physical stuff wouldn’t amount to much anyway.

My children were all excited, in their own way. One was physically vibrating and asked me (for the third time that morning) about the classroom number and teacher. One wore an old kitchen apron to the table and sat well away from the siblings, so as not to catch an errant crumb, drip or stain on the crisp, first-day outfit.

It is a marker of a good summer when our children both mourn and celebrate its ending. Each child relished in a season without early morning alarms, in lazy mornings, in lake and pool days, in camping and movie marathons and (dearly needed) gatherings with friends.

But brevity certainly adds to summer’s incomparable value. The crisp cool mornings of fall were coming soon, and bus schedules, overfilled backpacks and classes would soon come with it.

I swear (though my kids would never, ever admit it), by the end of summer they might even long for those days.

And then those days were here.

We finished the physical preparations. Ice packs slid covertly into lunch kits, water bottles filled, tightened (and inverted for good measure), bus route information was confirmed, repeated and then texted to each of the older children (also for good measure). Then, the herding of cats. Children into the front yard for the obligatory (but no less important) back to school photo.

We abandoned the traditional doorway and steps surrounded by dried and dying potted plants, and opted for the healthy lilac tree overlooking the street below. I took multiple photos in quick succession and found at least two of them usable.

Good enough.

My youngest and I made our way to his school. Tables were set up beside the playground, accompanied by sitting volunteers holding class lists and facing directly into the bright morning sunlight. A kindly woman smiled, squinting despite her sunglasses and directed us towards the appropriate door.

When we reached the classroom, my distracted son attempted to walk directly through the doorway before being abruptly halted by the outstretched arm and outward facing palm of his new teacher.

“Where do you think you're going!?” she playfully growled, furrowing her eyebrows before relaxing her whole face into a wide, natural smile.

She introduced herself to us both, and my son laughed nervously, giving me the briefest of waves and then darted inside, disappearing behind a corner. I was momentarily unnecessary, and I am grateful for it.

I was grateful for this teacher and every other amazing teacher our family has had the privilege of knowing, grateful for those who partner with us to shape and draw out our children, grateful for all of those who are prepared enough, patient enough and audacious enough to choose the role of “teacher.”

But there’s also something audacious in those who choose the role of “student”.

Not for my son, of course. Not for those in their youth. Those in their first two decades (wisely) get little say in the matter. But for those of us who have seen a few more decades, who finished our formal education a long time ago, the prospect of becoming a student can seem strange.

If you are like me, walking your own children to school, reminding your own teenagers of their bus routes and finding yourself the same age (or older) as your children’s teachers, perhaps the term “student” seems regressive.

And once we’re finished with classrooms and lecture halls, who exactly would be willing to take on this mantle of “teacher”? Perhaps more than we have ever considered. Perhaps more than we ever realized.

Perhaps we need a better education on how to find these teachers, and how to be a student. Because they are two sides of the same coin.

A while back, I realized that I was developing a different relationship to some of the voices speaking into my life. Some were mentors and colleagues whom I interacted with regularly, but others were authors and speakers whom I never met (and some had even lived and died long before I was born).

All of these voices held knowledge, of course, many of them specific expertise. But some of them called out for reciprocation. They were filled with possibility, with a palpable ache in their voice for their hard won wisdom and learnings to be both acknowledged and absorbed.

They sounded like teachers, calling for students, beckoning them inside their classrooms. The fact that we might be estranged by a great distance, culture and time never seemed to bother them. Or at least, that it is how they sounded, to me.

For years, I’ve thought about the adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.

What is it that makes the student ready? Maybe simply the decision to become one.

Perhaps the teachers were always there, waiting for their students to take on that all sacred role, to sit down humbly and ask “what can I learn from you today”?

Perhaps we could ask that question of anyone, and be surprised by how many great teachers we are surrounded by every day.

Paradoxically, the teachers I admire most seem to accept themselves as students, as well. These are teachers whose extensive experience only increased their commitment to curiosity. Their world was always becoming larger, more complex, never simpler or smaller. These were teachers who were courageous, humble and mature enough to never abandon the role of student.

And despite all that knowledge, and all that wisdom and all that expertise, these class lists are never truly full.

These teachers are always taking on new students. Maybe someone they instruct from the front of a class or lecture hall, maybe someone they sit down with on a regular basis over a cup of coffee. Maybe someone they correspond with online. Maybe someone who hears their words from a great distance, written many down many years ago.

Maybe someone like you, or me because we will never stop needing great teachers.

And there are so many, ready to appear, when we're ready to be students.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The unexpected relationship between possibility and scarcity

Full to bursting

Summer is full to bursting.

I’m on the Kettle Valley Railway trestles, tentatively watching as my youngest son nervously steers his bike towards the centre of the planks, his hands rigidly in perfect position, the rhythm of his peddling unwaveringly steady. I mention the rock formations above and to our left, but my son’s eyes remain fixed, straight ahead, unwavering.

He is neither relaxed nor comfortable, but he has crossed seven trestles so far this day without issue. I call it a win.

I’m at the Starlight Drive In in Enderby. We arrive early, play keep away with the soccer ball and frisbee under the giant white screen as we wait for dusk. We set up deck chairs around the hitch and fold rear seats flat. The children bury themselves in blankets and then wrestle and barter for optimal seating positions.

When the movie starts the bass from the rear subwoofer is blurry, the mosquitoes are all feasting on us (despite the liberal application of dollar store insect repellant) and each child uses the washroom at least once through the course of the movie.

Still, pure magic.

At one point a child extends their head backwards over the tailgate and complains about the movie being upside down. We consume salty popcorn and nachos that dry out our mouths and way too much artificial queso cheese. We catch glimpses of the distant northern lights in the eastern hills. We argue at the end of the first movie that 3:30 a.m. is not an ideal time to be arriving home after a double feature, and 1 a.m. is plenty late already. We vow to return and make poor sleep decisions in the future.

I’m at Tickleberries, reading aloud the names of each of their 72 flavours of ice cream as we wind our way through the switchback isles. I don't get through all the flavours. I spend a long time arguing that a child’s cone is perfectly appropriate for a child, before eventually conceding to a single scoop. The “single” turns out to be closer to a triple, and the “double” far more ice cream than anyone should ingest in a single sitting. We take our towering cones outside to share with the sun and wasps, and my youngest gets through most of their top scoop before the soggy ice cream cone caves under the weight, spilling blue and orange all over the hot cement.

I’m at Red Bird Brewing, sharing a table with my love and a few friends we have known for years. We’re talking about events from over a decade ago that I can scarcely remember. We talk frankly about the trauma that one of our friends endured, and all the ways it broke them and strengthened them. We think about the times we were there for each other, and the times that we weren’t. We apologize with downcast eyes and wistful smiles. And then we laugh raucously at a remembrance from our ignorant youth. We drink spectacular Saisons and Hazy IPAs, and devour delicious woodfire pizza cut with kitchen scissors.

I’m at home. It’s late at night and I’m creating a grocery list for camping, confirming schedules with friends for an upcoming trip and staring at my rapidly filling calendar. I’m looking at the handful of remaining dates unspoken for in August, and it feels as if summer is already drawing to a close, just as it starts.

When you start to feel like every single available moment is spoken for, it's hard not to feel the tug of scarcity. You can already see September coming. That there is not enough time, and before you know it, another summer will be gone forever.

But summer is anything but scarce. It is filled with early morning walks with the dog, with late evening paddles on glass-like water, with trips to the farmers market (and the accompanying stuffed bags filled with fresh beets, peas, apricots and strawberries), and countless other moments both pedestrian and sublime. There’s very little scarcity in summer. Summer is full to bursting. The scarcity resides in me.

For years, I felt like I was squandering each and every summer, especially when I moved to the Okanagan. Our summers really are spectacular. But between short summer staffing, limited and highly contested vacation time, a shortened season of clear skies due to wildfires, and wild, ambitious plans for epic adventures both home and away, each September would leave me filled with regret for all we couldn’t do.

Summer seemed filled with endless possibility. But my time, energy and resources were always finite.

As it is for each and every one of us.

Think of it this way: Summer is an all you can eat buffet, and even if you load your plate to the very edge, and pile the food high, and return multiple times, there will always be infinitely more on the buffet table than you can possibly consume.

We are both blessed and cursed by possibility.

Possibility is a tricky concept. It can open us up, cause us to dream and plan and hope. But it can also close us off. Leave us wishing for more, leave us ungrateful for the gifts we have right in front of us, leave us staring up at the buffet table, rather than every good and appetizing item on our overflowing plate. Possibility can hand you something delicious, and leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

If we imagine summer as a fraction, our experiences over every possibility, then our results will always seem frustratingly small. But if we see each and every experience as a whole? Not divided by possibility but simply possible, in this moment? That changes the equation entirely.

Ultimately, that’s what each of the above moments were: whole events, undivided pleasures, absolute gifts. I know that there will probably be many more, and by the time September comes, less than I might hope for. But that’s just me looking up at the buffet table again.

Because each of our plates are piled high with mouthwatering moments it’s worth being grateful, worth taking our time, worth savouring. That’s because summer is full to bursting.

And I hope to be too.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Life can be like riding downhill on a mountain bike

Playing with uncertainty

“Come for a ride” they said, “It will be fun” they said.

They were right.

Earlier this spring, a number of my friends and colleagues at the KGH emergency department were meeting up for a day of mountain biking at Smith Creek, a popular bike park in West Kelowna.

Under the promise of “lots of easy trails for beginners”, I loaded up my bike in the pouring rain and headed to the trailhead, wondering what, exactly, I had committed myself to.

I had reasons for concern. Biking is a sport with nearly religious devotion within our department, with many converts sporting new and impressive injuries regularly—bruised shoulders, cut up lower legs and shins and even the occasional broken collar bone or rib fracture. And that’s to say nothing of all the biking injuries we triage and treat on a regular basis.

They have seen what this sport can do, and somehow they are still hungry for more.

I’m relatively comfortable on a bike, and no stranger to winding, narrow rails in the bush, but most of my riding these days tends to be on wide, family friendly trails along Mission Creek, the KVR or the Greenway.

With between 400 and 700 feet of elevation, ramps, drop-offs, ladders and tree bridges, Smith creek was slightly more technical.

From the parking lot, the park opens vertically before you. The long climb up is filled with winding, switchback trails filled with narrow turns, plenty of roots, cobblestones and the occasional boulder.

I quickly found a group of friends who were mostly intermediate or beginner downhill riders and occasionally the towering pines would open before us, offering a panoramic view of Okanagan Lake, a reminder of just how far we had climbed and the promise of the downhill before us.

As we approached the intersection of our downhill trailhead, I heard wild hollering above me. A series of riders flew past, and I watched in amusement as a colleague, usually reserved, calm and cautious at work, came barreling through the trees, his dog chasing close behind him. He launched his bike over the ramp before us, and disappeared into the trees below, his excited yells still echoing behind him.

The beginner riders in our group looked at each other with equal amounts bewilderment, anticipation and trepidation.

“Well, here we are”. And with that short statement of acceptance, we began our descent.

Our first section of the trail was a series of downhill switchbacks. It was also a series of learnings in very quick succession—a (hopefully crashless) crash course on downhill biking.

I learned quickly the danger of the front brake. When traveling at a steep incline, you may not want your front wheel to abruptly stop spinning. Unfortunately, the rear brake is also a hazard, as clamping down on that brake repeatedly caused my back tire to skid, threatening to lay my bike down under me as I leaned into a tight turn. Counterintuitively the greatest control was found with wheels were spinning freely, feathering the brakes rather than gripping them tightly, and committing to the forces of gravity and momentum, rather than fighting against them with each new section.

The terrain was varied and exacting. No distracted riders on this course. After coming out of an especially tricky section, I lost focus for just a moment, hit a series of roots that shook my hands off of the handlebars, and nearly sent me into the embrace of a nearby pine tree.

Lesson learned. I gave each new section my full, unwavering attention.

I began to see the track in these small, segmented sections. A quick visual scan ahead, and an equally quick decision and commitment to the approach of the next 20 meters, the next 10 seconds, the next turn or ramp or landmark. Scan, commit, attempt. Again and again.

When I finally reached the bottom of the trail, I found even my most experienced colleagues relating similar experiences. A particular section that surprised them, even though they had ridden it countless times before. As familiar as the trail was, no rider was ever 100% certain of what lay beyond the next turn.

Have you noticed that there is a connection between uncertainty and wholehearted living? I've found that those who are most alive are never 100% certain of what lies beyond the next turn.

We live in a culture that loves the promise of certainty. If you have eyes for it, you begin to see certainty peddled everywhere. If you do this thing, you will get this result. If you buy this product, your life will be better. If you join this group, you will find your purpose and belonging. What is always on offer is the promise of certainty.

When I became a father for the first time, my wife and I felt the immense, black-hole-like pull to the promise of certainty. We (obviously) had no idea what we were doing, and searched wildly for the best information on how to raise a child.

Seemingly, in answer, everywhere we went we was beset with unsolicited parenting advice—in the line at the grocery store, at gatherings with complete strangers. We soon learned that anyone and everyone had an opinion on how to raise a child, and behind each unsolicited “tip” was the same promise of certainty. Do this, they said (in a hundred different ways), and your child will turn out all right.

But invariably, each pearl of wisdom, would be incompatible with our life, or contradict the advice we had just received from someone else. At night, we read giant tomes of parenting books written by authors with PhDs attached to their names, citing exhaustive research. And then we would read another book, from another author with similar credentials and research, arguing the exact opposite approach to “correct” parenting.

For me, there came a moment of clarity, amidst the confusion. “Oh... no one knows for certain”.

There was still plenty to learn from every book, every article, even from every unwanted piece of advice tossed our way, but soon enough we learned the liberating truth. There is no certainty, no mathematical formula, no answers that always work in parenting. Or any other aspect of our life.

With the lack of certainty, we become like the downhill rider. We get very interested in the road ahead. We scan as much as we can see of the next section, we commit to what seems like our best actions and approaches, and we move forward with equal parts hope and trepidation. And then we do it again, and again.

That uncertain, liminal space is uncomfortable at the best of times, and occasionally agonizing when so much is at stake. But a bit of doubt makes you flexible. Each parenting approach and decision had to be held loosely, always available for scrutiny, to be discussed and adjusted. An approach that worked wonderfully the first time might fall flat the second. What worked with one child would almost never work with another.

Undoubtedly some approaches were better than others. Some constructive and some destructive. Some wise and some foolish. Sometimes we wouldn’t know which is which until much later. Some we still don’t know. So much of it is still in play.

And “play” is the right word here, because whether we are talking about biking, parenting, or any other aspect of our life, we are alive in those moments of uncertainty and curiosity. We are playing with it all, even (and especially) when the stakes are high. We know that there is real danger here, so we pay attention.

We don’t get the security of certainty. But we get something much better. We get to play.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Opening up our world through language

A narrow place

There are nearly 500 explorable caves at Lava Beds National Monument in the U.S. On a recent visit, my family managed to see six of them.

The caves are helpfully divided up into categories based on the caver’s experience and comfort with risk and narrow spaces:

Category A—You can stand and walk fully upright at all times.

Category B—You have to duck your head or bend your body around occasionally low ceilings.

Category C—You will have to crawl or ‘slither’ on your stomach for considerable sections.

Category D—There is no category D. There is no category C for me either.

Lava Beds National Monument is located just across the Oregon/California border, a National Park of nearly 47,000 acres of rolling hills and desolate plains. On the long winding drive into the park, you can see fields littered with igneous rock from the eruption of nearby Medicine Lake volcano thousands of years ago. Beneath the ground, lava tubes created most of these hidden caverns, including Valentine Cave.

“Valentine Cave is a must see” said the very passionate, uniformed ranger as he handed us a map and our massive, indestructible and un-pocketable flashlights. There was no deposit taken, only our solemn promise to return them at the end of day.

The entrance into Valentine was a short winding path with a handful of switchback stairs leading to its gaping mouth. Immediately the passage splits into two arching tunnels which later join together as the cavern narrows, descending deeper into the earth. You might imagine that the cave’s heart-like shape with bifurcating arching paths and slowly narrowing corridor might be the reason for its naming. But the cave was simply discovered on Valentine's Day in the 1930s, it’s heart like shape completely serendipitous.

Nearly a century later, It certainly had my heart beating faster.

As the corridor continued to turn and descend, the darkness became unfathomably hungry, completely devouring the light of both our dollar store headlamps and the flash of our phones. Only our loaned lanterns were able to shine a thin beam that reached the narrowing walls.

Our family of five walked forward slowly, shoulder to shoulder. Out of necessity we focused one flashlight beam above our heads, and one at the ground directly in front of our feet. The slow uneven drip of water gathered at the end of stalactites, and occasionally would drip onto our outstretched arm or down our neck. In sections the stalactites hung low enough to threaten to comb our hair, or strike a careless forehead. Below our feet the ground was wet, uneven, and littered with piles of rock from where sections of the roof had given way.

The cave walls continued to narrow as we delved deeper still, until the walls beside us were nearly in reach. We stared unseeingly into the distance ahead, and the sloping floor and impenetrable darkness made it appear as if we stood on the edge of a chasm. As if just ahead of us, the ground simply dropped away. Perhaps it did. We never found out. One of our children asked to turn around, and I gratefully conceded to their request.

While each step into the cave had been apprehensive and cautious, our return steps were markedly lighter, buoyed with the security of a known and previously explored path. Soon enough we could see the faint glow of reflected sunlight illuminating the edges of the narrow cave walls.

As we exited the cave, our eyes blinking blindly in the daylight, I breathed in deeply, stretched my arms wide, and sunk into the deep relief of a wide open space.

The whole road trip had been a stretch, a long, slow exhale after months of holding our breath. Despite the hours spent in a cramped minivan, despite the five of us tripping over each other in hotel and motel rooms in different locations each night, it felt expansive, luxurious. It felt wide open, after a long time living in a narrow space.

Along the considerable journey we brought along Brene Brown’s newest (audio)book, “Atlas of the Heart”. I have been a fan of Brene’s research, presentations and writings for a long time now, and this might be my favourite work of her’s yet.

Through mountain passes and desert plains we listened to Brene compare and contrast 87 distinct and common emotions, and the context in which we experience them. The work is thoroughly researched and easy to understand and relate to. But for me, the most interesting aspect of the book remains the ‘why’. Why write a compendium of 87 distinct emotions? Because most can only identify and reach for three— happy, sad and angry.

It doesn’t take long for Brown to argue her case. If we can only identify three emotions, it limits not only our vocabulary, but our experiences as well.

In my last column, I related Jonathan Merrit’s concern that “sacred words” were disappearing from our common vocabulary. His concern is the same as Brown's, that a diminished vocabulary results in a diminished life and that even if we are not religious, we need words like “forgiveness” on our tongues, or we forget the very human need to regularly forgive each other.

The way we think and speak changes us, and our world. Language is not only descriptive, but prescriptive as well.

I think a lot of us have been feeling like we have been living in a narrow space for a while now, corralled into these tight spaces by forces completely beyond our control. A pandemic, a threat of war, a climate emergency, an uncertain economic future.

No one could fault us for feeling lost in this current darkness. For feeling claustrophobic with those walls closing in around us.

In face of this helplessness, Brown and Merrit’s work reminds me that language is agency, for good, or for ill. It is a double edged sword in each of our hands. Inadequate language and poor mental constructs have the potential to close us in just as much as external realities or a physical space. But thoughtful, precise language can open us up, lead us out of darkness and show us realities that we were previously ignorant to.

Some language makes the world bigger, while some makes it smaller. Some language reduces others into tidy groups of “us” and “them”, while some reveal everyone has a complex and hidden story. Some language peddles certainty, while some invites curiosity.

As the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously wrote, “words create worlds”. We have a crucial role in deciding what type of worlds we are creating.

It’s worth asking what language we are listening to, reading and repeating. Are we smaller or larger for it? Are we confining ourselves or freeing ourselves? Are we staying in any narrow spaces that we don’t have to?

The space we find ourselves in is narrow enough. Let’s open it up a little.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author


Matthew Rigby is a grateful husband to one, and father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency care, and has spent more than 15 years in healthcare. 

Matt, an avid reader and podcast enthusiast, is committed to great questions and honest discovery.

You can find his podcast "Something From Everything" wherever you listen, and find all his writing at www.somethingfromeverything.com.

You can contact Matthew at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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