A Letter to My Students Before School Starts

“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.” — Augustus Waters, in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

Dear Students,

We are almost there.

It’s almost that time of year again. And while you’re probably not even thinking about sitting in class behind a desk, not anxious yet to trade in summer for fall: I am already there in my mind. For me, it’s already happening.

I am already planning and thinking and wondering and hoping. I am already imagining you. I wonder who you are, what makes you tick, what you like, where you live. Are you a morning person or a late-night owl, are you funny, are you loud? Do you have any fears of your own? Are you ready for this next chapter of your life to open wide and be written?

Who are you?

And while we might have never met, I do have one thing I want to offer you right now, a wish proffered before everything begins again and we are caught up in the surge of emotion that accompanies each given school year.

My biggest hope for you — what I want for you even before I have met you and come to know your unique personality and particular way of knowing — is that you take notice, that you become a “noticer.” A “see-er” of life.

We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page five and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.

We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.

We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.

We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.

But we are not taught to notice.

Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.

Students, if I can ask of you just this: learn to notice the world around you. Learn to watch more carefully, listen more closely, feel more deeply, understand more fully. Watch with both your eyes and ears. Use all the senses that have been gifted you. Listen with both your ears and your heart. Feel others pain and joy with compassion and care.

Understand that this life is not just about you–it is about a world around you full of people and living things that beg for you to notice them.

We have not been shown well, not really been taught how to notice the people and world around us. You can change this pattern, Students. You can be the one to do things differently.

One smart decision at a time.

This blog was first published at www.pursuitofajoyfullife.com.


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About Lori Gard