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Kathy Bradley

Lesson learned from all other lessons

    Sometime around the first of the year, I found out about a book titled “The Intellectual Devotional.” The title alone was reason enough to buy it.
    The introduction describes the volume as “one year’s worth of daily readings that will refresh your spirit, stimulate your mind, and help complete your education.” Who wouldn’t want that?
    I’ve learned a lot of interesting things in the past six months. For example, one Thursday (science day), I learned about nociception, which is the perception of pain. The anterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain responsible for that and, interestingly enough, it does not distinguish between physical and emotional pain. As the authors put it, “It responds equally to a broken arm and to a broken heart.” Imagine.
    I tend to see things metaphorically so one Friday (music day) as I read about harmony, I couldn’t help reading an important life lesson into the comment that “Without the instability of temporary dissonance, tonal music would be boring; without the stability of consonance, it would be unsatisfying.” In the back of my mind I kept hearing a wise teacher telling me that without the hard times, the good times couldn’t be appreciated and without the good times the hard times couldn’t be borne.
    You can see, then, why I’m always eager for each morning’s dip and why there are underlinings and scribbled notes all over the pages. Each day there is something that makes me think and, in a world where there is less and less of that going on, I’m grateful for the challenge.
    Which brings me to today’s reading. I’m writing this on Thursday which (as noted above) is science day and the topic is reproduction. The reading begins, “In the plant and animal kingdom, there are two main ways to reproduce: asexually and sexually.” Yeh, yeh, tenth grade biology stuff. Not going to be all that enlightening.
    Or so I thought.
    Second paragraph: “Budding is a common form of asexual reproduction found in strawberries, aspen trees and coral. In budding, the offspring grows from a part of the parent. Sometimes they break apart, but other times they remain connected for life” and, as a result, have “a more difficult time evolving to changes in the environment.”
    As I read it, I could hear my brain adding the phrase, “like some people I know.”
    What? From where did that idea spring forth?
    My Adam graduated college in May. Light of my life from the day he was born, fearless and opinionated, great joy and irritant simultaneously, he is now out there. He has a job and a life and he doesn’t call me three times a day anymore for phone numbers or favors or advice.
    We still call him, occasionally, by one of his childhood nicknames — Bud — but the truth is that Adam is not a bud. He is a separate, unique organism. He carries a little of each of us, but the combination is his alone. And that combination, I have to believe, will be enough to get him through the inevitable “changes in the environment” — the stresses, the losses, the frustrations.
    Believing that does not, of course, eliminate the instinctual desire to shield him from those things (a desire that has a lot to do with nociception and the anterior cingulate cortex perception of broken arms and broken hearts). The truth is that I’d just as soon save the people I love from affliction of any kind.
    But I would be wrong to do that. Wrong to deprive anyone who means anything to me of the flaming hot, ice cold, blood boiling, bone chilling experience of real pain. It comes to us all and, without it, we would never know how strong we are.
    It’s a lesson I learned not from The Intellectual Devotional but from living, not from a book but from birthdays. And that single lesson — that each of us can be strong enough to handle whatever comes her way — may very well be the sum total of all the other lessons combined.

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