As I sat eating dinner recently with two of my favorite people, I was struck by the evocative phenomenon of our different approaches to eating garlic toast (as seen above).
The study of multiple intelligences, as initiated by Howard Gardner in 1983, addresses “…the extent to which students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways…” (Gardner, 1991). My garlic toast encounter speaks to both the evidence of this, as well as the cautionary note that Gardner and others have tacked on to avoid that crippling practice of pigeon-holing people.
Individuals possess unique traits, obstacles, strengths, and perspectives that help (or hinder) their journeys, whether those be through relationships, careers, or self-discovery. All of those facets, the positive and the challenging, contribute to who we are and need to be celebrated or embraced, as they help define our evolution as individuals. That process is an organic one, expressed through triumphs–for me performing the late Chris Dickerson’s brilliant one-man show To Bury Caesar, focused on John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln, and being the dad to a precocious, confident and compassionate daughter are two of my greatest. And frustrations–being betrayed by a body that held up to so many athletic and adventurous exploits only to be sidelined by an innocuous divot in a soccer field and an innocent sledding adventure; or the ugliness of prejudices or selfish agendas.
This line of thought was prompted by more than just a gooey, buttery, savory…dang, I’m getting hungry…I was inspired to talk about paths and perceptions by virtue of numerous recent reconnections. Having moved 30 times in my life, I crave those connections that speak to my history and show some of the paths I have followed. About six years ago, I was contacted by a former student who played goalkeeper on the high school soccer team I had once coached. He had been undersized and had the attention span of a chipmunk, but he was ridiculously brave and, more admirably, determined. He developed into a fearless and talented player. He reached out to me to invite me to his final game as a college goalie. How humbling and touching! Fast forward to a few weeks ago–I was included on his Facebook invite to attend his first year MFA show at Columbus College of Art & Design. Of course I showed up and he met me with the same lazy smile (a good two inches taller than I, at least) and a head of hair like Weird Al Yankovic. It was terrific to see him in his new element and hear him communicate his passion through a new discipline.
Another such connection involved the convergence of my path with that of another, celebrated student from my year at a charter school. This young man impressed me with a profession that he was going to change the world…and I believed him. Within that particular environment, one of challenging, often disengaged and sometimes troubled youth, he needed mentorship. So, I introduced him to the Martin Luther King, Jr. State Oratorical Contest, which we tackled together for three consecutive years (even after I left the school pursuing my own new path). We collaborated to win the State Championship three years in a row. We stayed in touch over the years, as he faced his own challenges of funding college and continuing to apply his talents. When he was in town, I would invite him to visit my classes and share his gifts and his insights. Last year, he reached out to me asking me for help on a project. He had written a one-man show dealing with the human condition, racial tension, and some powerful autobiographical issues. After reading the piece and providing my feedback, I asked who he was working with to direct it.
“Well, you of course! I wouldn’t trust this in anyone else’s hands.”
This reply blew me away and shook me out of a deep, somewhat self-imposed malaise regarding my impact on my charges and the consequences (or hazards) of lending a hand. This talented young man and I have tapped into the positive energy and reward that comes from mutual trust and appreciation. All of this, these two examples of paths converging, speaks to the value of keeping your eyes up and seeing not just the path you’re currently on, but also those other potential paths, the intersections where you might lend a hand to help (or reach out for help yourself), and the irrefutable fact that the path isn’t always going to be straight or level or yielding. Lose sight of that and you’re sure to be discouraged when the path seeks to trip you, make you lose your way, or distract you from a more appealing or appropriate path.
Nor can we allow others’ perceptions to create a stagnancy or an impediment to our continued progress. If we keep dedicating ourselves to authentic self-improvement, commit to being kind and helpful when and where we can (without compromising our own integrity or security), and truly appreciate the people and places that make up the beautiful fabric of our stories, something good will happen. We will gain a greater respect for the fact that as long as the destination is a worthy one and the methods by which we reach that destination are grounded in good intentions (we won’t always make the right choices), then the path we choose doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else’s path. We don’t have to be lemmings, nor should we flout good advice or sound practices, just to be contrary. So, grab that garlic toast however you choose and, to give a nod to my Irish heritage and paths…
“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.”