Learn Like You Are Going to Live Forever

 The other day at Mission San Juan Capistrano I strode across the courtyard in my docent attire, eager to meet the tour group waiting for me. There were about thirty fourth graders and ten adults. I greeted them with a big smile and introduced myself. Then I asked where they lived.

     "We are from Brea, in North Orange County."

     "That's great! You've come a long way," I responded, "and we are so happy to have you here. Does anyone know what "brea" means?
Oil Wells and Homes Coexist in Brea, California Today

      My question was met with silence. I looked at the group. They looked at me. I grinned into their expectant faces. After a moment, I announced that it means "tar." Their astonished expressions grabbed at my heartstrings. Without losing a beat, I went on to explain how the Native Americans, who had built the Mission, used tar to line their canoes and baskets to keep them water tight, that they could even boil water in their sturdy containers. The hills and canyons of Brea have been rich sources of tar and petroleum for centuries. I knew that the early ranchers avoided buying up the tar-filled acres because the gooey substance clung to the sheep's feet and soiled the wool. The settling farmers of Orange County were oblivious to the value of the "liquid gold" beneath the ground.
Native Americans Built Sturdy Canoes

     That did it! I could feel their eagerness to learn more. I bundled them into their imaginary time machines and off we went. The rest of the hour-long tour zoomed by, fueled by their interest. When it came time to part ways, I asked each student to share what aspect of their visit had meant the most to them. In sweet whispers so many replied, "Everything!"

     Needless to say, witnessing their excitement of discovery filled me with awe. It also humbled me to think that as a career educator I had found a rewarding niche for myself in retirement.

     That encounter prompted me to focus on the idea of life-long learning, and what it can mean. The day before, I had attended an art history class at the Mission. We learned in some detail about the Mission's extensive art collection. We were taught about the paint mixing techniques used by the medieval master's in liturgical art. The ancient works tend to be dark as the minerals they had to work with were from finely ground rocks and minerals mixed with linseed oil. I listened to the lecture and took notes. It was not until many hours later, when I was watching a YouTube video on those long ago practices, that an epiphany flashed through my brain!
Liturgical Art Was Dark Due to Pigments Available
     Connections flooded my mind. As a porcelain artist, I realized I have been utilizing the same techniques as the old masters for over four decades. We carefully mix the powdery minerals with a binder, like linseed oil, we call it "mixing medium," to create our paints. We then fire our painted pieces in a kiln to adhere the paint to the porcelain.

Porcelain Art Today - Mixing Paint
     What fascinated me is that I sat through the entire lecture about 18th century painters and did not connect their techniques to my own. When I did, I was exuberant! My discovery nearly bowled me over!! I continued to ponder my ideas: about the excitement of discovery, and its connection to human happiness,
     Today, I was in the produce aisle at Trader Joe's with my ten-year old granddaughter, Caroline. I reached for a container of banana nut squash zig-zags. That action caught the attention of the woman standing next to me. "How do you eat those?" She inquired.
     "Well, I cook them in the microwave."
     "In their plastic container?"
     "No, I place them in a covered glass dish."
     "Do you add butter?
     "No, just a few tablespoons of water."
     "For how long?
     "Maybe three minutes."

     I turned, Caroline smiled, and I began to push our cart away. The delighted lady exclaimed out loud (clearly talking to herself), "Oh I just love learning new things!"

     Caroline and I exchanged a knowing look. The lady was pretty funny, certainly she was persistent, but her remark speaks to the fact that learning new things, discovery, is a huge turn-on and probably an element in maintaining one's happiness.
     Anyway, this is something I'm going to continue to ponder. I particularly appreciate Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts about life-long learning. He said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow, Learn as if you were to live forever."