Recently Luke (12 years old) was given an assignment to relate an experience in which he learned something valuable. The catch: the lesson could not come from a book. Funny that we now consider experiential learning to be the exception rather than the rule. Curve ball coming: when have you learned something from your life? Gone are the days when, if you neglected to milk the cow, it died and you ate your cornbread dry as a gravestone for a memorable season. Now we experience life vicariously through video games and “reality” TV. Although some oldschool escapists still live in books made of paper… they’ll come around. The lessons we learn from our media have a half-life of a nap. They, like our devices, become obsolete, which is fine because what they teach us should be forgotten anyway. Anything less than glamorous… sucks. Mortal injuries… just hit “play again.” While experience has been given the pink slip, theoretical learning is considered king, especially in universities. That is where I learned concepts such as theoretical anarchy. In a perfect world, anarchy is viable, even preferable. So is flying when one jumps off a building, in a perfect world.
Luke is refereeing a soccer game as a write this. A true learning experience, if ever there was one for an athlete. Playing a game vs. being the objective authority of the game. Since becoming a ref, Luke has been kinder and gentler in his post-game critique of ref calls. To watch the usual ref crucifixion from the sidelines is akin to weeping over Old Yeller. To be the ref (or his mom) is to die Old Yeller’s death. Refereeing teaches you to know the sound sticks and stones actually make when they strike the soft tissue of your soul, know it well enough to never inflict it on anyone else. To ref is to finally see the game from both sides. I think it’s more important to Luke that he refs fairly than that he fairly wins a game. But all games can be fair. Theoretically.
Unfortunately the world isn’t theoretical where I’m sitting– in an unkind wind that makes this 45 degree day feel like 25, watching salt-shaped snow brazenly land on my gloves in late April. I can’t help but root for the underdog team. I also can’t help but cheer when the dogs get a breakaway run and nearly score. “Go number ten!” is all I can say, since I don’t know any of these kids. But being a loser is hard. I know because the dad next to me wishes he was back in his old suburb where they played fair. This dad is learning something not from books: losing stinks just as bad when you’re a parent as when you were a kid. But in theory, he could be winning and so could the other team.
So when Luke was asked what life had taught him, he chose to tell about his yearly trip to an Indian reservation. There he became acquainted with true material and spiritual poverty unlike any he had ever experienced before (in addition to having his favorite shirt stolen). You can read about poverty, but smelling it helps. Going hungry would cinch the lesson, but I’ve never been a perfectionist. Now when Luke doesn’t get the latest video game or newest shade of cleats, he doesn’t feel “poor.” Perspective is the lesson he learned, and– while books do a great job, experience is chief.