Bare with me. This post is a bit different than most.
We are just home from a Celebration of Life for our next door neighbor, who passed away this week at a much-too-young age of 63. There were cowboy hats and boots on a lot of people there, alongside shirts from the Sturgis motorbike rally, and Bruins hockey jerseys. There were laughs, tears, and even some occasional swearing in the speeches. It was a unique service for a unique man.
His daughters played a duet of an Aria, and a niece played Beethoven’s Fur Elise on the piano, a song from his favorite movie The Man from Snowy River. Beside them, his Harley Davidson gear. A display of his many awards from marathon horse races.
His boots. His hat. His saddle.
Behind us, before the service started, I overheard a man say he had no idea how many worlds a person exists in without the others knowing. As we looked around, there were people from our own distinct worlds that we saw and wondered, ‘How did they know Jerald?’
He was a true modern Renaissance man.
As his family detailed in many stories, he lived his life fast and furious, determined through setbacks, creating opportunities where there were none, and always seeing the positive in every situation. And there were multiple cow situations as examples!
A man whose kindness in helping an elderly gentleman with his bag on an airplane turned into receiving a phone call from Bobby Orr wishing him a happy birthday.
A man who was an imaginative child with made-up Batman adventures complete with costumes, who loved to draw and create, and who read Tolkien to his own children growing up.
A man with a Harley. A cowboy through and through. An avid reader.
A man who loved learning his whole life, but didn’t love school because “it told him what to learn.”
In today’s educational jargon, Jerald was a true lifelong learner with the ultimate growth mindset. The educational system we went through in the 70s and 80s wasn’t set up with these ideas in mind. Quite the opposite. Compliance. Submission. If you didn’t fit that mold, or eventually mold to the mold, school was a rough ride.
And not every person has this internal passion and drive. This resilience. How many young people’s dreams and aspirations were quashed by that mindset? How many paths through life were altered and tamped down?
On the drive home, I saw an article on Twitter than caught my attention, partly because it talked about the Finnish education system but partly because the words “Progressive methods don’t work. Simple.” jumped off my screen. It proceeded to make claims from a Finnish/Asia correspondent that essentially touted Asian success for these reasons: they “start their education earlier, work harder, and work longer.” That “Finland’s education system lowers the bar accordingly to match a student’s talent and skill set.” That in Finland, “open competitiveness is less socially acceptable” and that when Finland “strives to make learning fun and creative” it sacrifices “long-term educational gains if success is always measured on a student’s instant gratification.” (bigthink.com)
I just don’t even know where to start on this one, and don’t think I could possible disagree any more vehemently.
To the article’s credit, it did give a cursory look at the other side of those issues at the end, and acknowledged that there is a short-term gain to the Asian ‘uncompromising schedules and test-driven milieu’ and that any takeaways from the Finnish education system should “harmonize with an understanding of Finland’s culture, its history, and a wider range of evidence.”
When I see how excited students are to choose their own topics for Heritage Fair, how they self-advocate and start talking about making a movie for it, or sketching out how they want their display to look, I can’t help but be excited with them. I don’t want kids to hate school because it told them what they could learn and how to learn it. The service today was proof of a life well-lived when you never quit learning, or loving learning. Full stop.
The family talked a lot today about Jerald’s ability to tell stories and to get to know other people’s stories. Even in a trip to the bathroom! We shared a lot of our own stories about our neighbor today, and realized how fast twenty years has gone. In lieu of a guest book, the family asked people to share pictures and thoughts in a memory book for Jerald. Sometimes words just don’t suffice:
There are few people that come to mind as connected to the land as Jerald. With his horses and his dogs…with his not-locking-the-front-door style of country living…with J’s castle and zipline…his love and pride for his family was obvious. Jerald was our go-to neighbor when we had questions and needed help, and he was always gracious and generous with both. We will miss him very much, and our rural life of stray animals and snowstorms, of seasons and sunsets, will always be connected to thoughts of him as well.
His wife finished the tribute by challenging us all to visit with a stranger we didn’t know, and to get to know their story. Just like Jerald would have.
As we head into this week, everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
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