What Did You Learn Today?
Updated: Mar 22
I have struggled to finish Ron Chernow's Hamilton biography. It is a beautifully written book about a pivotal character and moment in American history. And there also happens to be a kick-ass musical that has peaked my interest as I desperately try to detail historical facts while my kids rap about the Constitution. I love to read but I struggle because it feels like a heavy read for the summer. No Judy Blume. No steamy romance novels. Just 500 pages of Alexander Hamilton. Even a lady next to me at the pool commented "Are you a professor?", as if I would need to have a legitimate reason to read such a thing over summer vacation. I get it. But I'm insisting on plowing through it.
I have done a whole lot of learning this summer. I learned how to navigate the streets of Atlanta just a little bit more, through trial and error and lots of choice words with Google Maps that shut down just as I turned onto the highway. I learned how to better instruct my son to dive properly, thanks to a patient lifeguard who was happy to teach me. I learned about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist that has brought more people into the climate conversation over the past year than the science community has in the past 10. That was thanks to my brother-in-law who has shared his climate-activist heart with me over a Twitter feed and a bowl of Froot Loops. I learned why shrimp and grits can't possibly be part of a reasonable diet and why reasonable diets are probably not worth my trouble when I dine at my favorite restaurant in Roswell. I learned that no matter how hard I try that solitaire game with the pegs that requires you to jump pegs and leave only one behind, I always end up with two. Believe me, I really worked on this one. My daughter said "haven't you played that enough?" I guess it depends, Rachel. If I want to get down to one peg, the answer is no.
I am no different than most others. I have spent a summer learning. Each and every day. Accidentally and on purpose. It happens, outside of the bounds of school and structure. I think even if we tried to plug our ears and yell "blah blah blah" we would still learning something, maybe about ourselves and the need to keep an open mind...
But imagine what life might feel like if we committed ourselves to learning something new on purpose? What if each day we made a pledge to seek out a new answer or conduct business in a new way or find a new activity that furthered our knowledge, if only for that day, about the topic or activity at hand? I already know how to play piano - I've been playing for over 30 years. But I don't know how to play that particular song, so let me dive into that. I know how to sew, but I can watch a YouTube video and finally learn how to get that mitered corner on a table napkin right. I know nothing about the history of city in which I live. That might take all of 5 minutes to review. We have 10 decks of cards around the house and I am always stuck playing War because that is the only card game for kids that I can remember. I could learn that, too. The possibilities are truly endless.
And let's not forget about the inner learning. Not facts and figures, things and places, activities and events, but the act of learning something new about ourselves. Learn how to harness your energy by learning meditation. Learn how to how to breathe deeply before responding to that nasty email. Insist on seeing things through the eyes of your child when they are asking for something. Learn how to channel your rage or pain in a way that gets you to a better place. It doesn't cost a thing. It doesn't have to consume your day. It doesn't have to interfere with any of your plans. And the results of your commitment to learning are potentially life-changing. Our days and our lives are built on the little things we do each day, so if we do little things each day that further our knowledge, happiness, output, peace, mental agility, compassion - that seems like a life pretty well-spent to me.
Take the time to learn something new. Relearn what was lost in the recesses of our crazy minds. Challenge yourself to become an expert on a topic for which you are always asking questions. Read a novel with your children. Read a novel with your spouse. Visit a place specifically so you can 'geek out' on the information that it hides in plain sight. Think for yourself. Think something new about an old problem. Commit to being in charge of what you devote your time to learning and be an active participant in what you take away from each day lived.
I don't think I could ever have any regrets about learning too much. Learning, and my daily commitment to it, keeps me going. It keeps me excited about what tomorrow will hold, and what I will be able to learn and share with others. What did you learn today? When you are ready, I'll tell you all about how the Federalists changed America. That is, of course, if I ever finish that book.