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The Joy- -and Pain- -of Learning

The Joy--and Pain--of Learning

One of my greatest lessons in the meaning of life came when I was a teenager on an outing with my uncle and his family. My uncle was skilled as a snow skier and I was trying the sport for the first time. First he took me to the "bunny hill" where I managed to go up the rope tow without causing any major disruptions for the other 200 people trying to use it. I managed to get down the hill without hurting myself or others. After three or four such trips, I was beginning to think this skiing business was not too difficult after all. My uncle informed me that it was time to "go to the top." If you have ever been snow skiing you know that just getting on the chairlift for the first time is cause for great trauma and anxiety. Getting on is nothing compared to getting off, however. They had to stop the lift so that I could gather myself and my skis back together after the calamity of getting off of the chair at the top of the mountain.
Then came the tortuous journey to the bottom of the slope. This was nothing like the "bunny hill" and what little I had learned about "snow-plowing" and turning was instantly forgotten in the panic of looking down the hillside. I would ski from one side of the ski run to the other, not know how to turn, and fall down because that was the only way for me to slow down. People soon began to ski past me for the second time (having gone down, stood in line, and gone back up the chairlift to the top again). Most humiliating were the four and five year old children who went racing by fearlessly. My hips were soon numb to the pain and shock absorption from my repetitious tumbling. After what seemed to be half of the day we were still half-way up the mountain--I had long since lost count of how many times I had fallen--and I turned to my uncle with the look that says "can't we go home now?" He had patiently watched and said very little up to that point. In the midst of my frustration, he said, "Don't worry about it! If you're not falling, you're not learning anything."
The truth of my uncle's advice goes way beyond the parameters of the ski slope. Much of life's wisdom is learned through the agony of failure, and what we learn from falling--what we learn from our mistakes. It is wonderful, of course, when we can learn in the midst of joy. But the reality of life is that we also learn a great deal from falling, and there are many aspects of our lives that require taking risks, trying new things, gaining experience through our feeble efforts and mistakes. The task of living, of course, is to learn from falling, not just take up falling as a way of life. The pain of learning, in the end, often produces the most joyous results! John O. York




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