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The wonder of lifelong learning

By: By Judith Bonaduce, PhD, RN

I’m a nurse educator and educating others (really, being educated by others) is my greatest joy in life. Every time I speak with Miss E.*, I learn. She is one of the elderly residents who live in the subsidized housing area where I’m honored to work. I’m smiling right now—I called her elderly, but we’re both around the same age! I need to remember how old I am, I guess. Yesterday, I came across a saying that reminded me of her:

Ask in order to understand, and do not ask in order to find fault.
— Imam Ali

Miss E. reminds me of my grandmother, who was born in Italy in 1900. She was born with severe scoliosis, and her parents wrapped her in a big rug they had borrowed from the town merchant. Then each parent twisted one of the ends (like a giant Atlantic City saltwater taffy) and attempted to straighten the baby’s back. It’s a wonder my grandmother lived through that.

Miss E. also has a curvature of her back. Whenever she speaks, it seems to me that because she is so bright, people look at her quizzically. I believe they’re trying to figure out what she is all about. But I know that Miss E. seeks to understand. She is straightforward, beautiful, and a bowl. Yes, a bowl. One of the definitions of the word bowl is:

To travel smoothly and rapidly

That she does. Her body moves smoothly, and her petite frame moves along rapidly. Her movement belies the structure of her back. I can only imagine how quickly her mind is moving and questioning. She doesn’t accept the status quo, and people get weird with that. Every-day-people tend to love the ordinary, the mundane. Miss E. is not every-day; she loves none of those things.

It must be hard to always be questioned and to always feel the need to understand. Maybe not for Miss E., though. It’s probably her gift—the gift of lifelong learning. She would have been an excellent nurse, although, of course, she’s already excellent in her own right.

Now back to the concept of the bowl. I love symbols present in our world, and just recently, a friend who has Asian artifacts throughout her whole house, sold all the contents and moved to Florida. She gave me this beautiful Asian bowl and told me it’s worth a lot of money. Because of my association with Miss E. (who loves Asian artifacts) and how I perceive that she moves and thinks (and because she is priceless), I decided to give Miss E. the bowl. I believe she will love it.

She can put it on a shelf, fill it with food, admire its beautiful Asian artistry, or use it as a blessing bowl. She is a blessing to me as a person and in my professional role. I wonder if she realizes she is a blessing to everyone she cares to interact with, or those with whom she shares her life knowledge; especially those who look at her oddly, question her, or those who do not realize her gift of being a bowl.

I wonder.

Judith Bonaduce is a supportive services coordinator for Delaware County Housing Authority in Chester Township, Pennsylvania.

*Name has been changed.

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