I think that touching another person’s life comes with responsibility but I am not sure how far it extends. As a teacher, you agree that you are going to touch the lives of others. Does a teacher have responsibility for the effects of their touches?
Suppose I taught someone that despised the very core of the principles for which I stood? I became just a transmitter of technique. I became a person who showed you what worked, nothing more. I had put my skills on the market and thereby given up claim to what became of them.
This is a truth for teachers everywhere: that is what happens when your skills are on the marketplace. Maybe it is always what happens. Maybe the teacher has no responsibility for the lessons taught. In quiet moments of reflection, do teachers believe that?
I taught so many young people. Does each come with a responsibility? Even the ones that I cannot remember? Maybe especially those.
I have made touching lives my faith, but not my religion. I feel the tendrils of my spirit reach out to those that I have touched. And I am not sure what to do with that information either. The people in my life might tell you that I gave my best to my students and some may even say that they resent not having more of me. I just know that I was about touching lives.
One way to learn is to look at those who have touched my life. To what extent do I hold them responsible for who I am and have been? The pat answer is to say that we are all responsible for our own lives.
As a somewhat ironic aside, my teacher Allen once read in a class the following: “There comes a time in a man’s life when he is responsible for even the look on his face.” My memory says that he attributed it to Abraham Lincoln. That does not seem to be the case. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent trying to find the context and author of this line. Does my teacher share responsibility with my memory for this unanswered question?
My life has been touched by so many. Some were knowledgeable of the touches, some were unconscious and some just did not care about the effects of their influence. Some tell themselves that they just do not remember. We tend to remember that which is important to us. We tend to rework our memories, but they seem to sprout from the seeds of having been touched.
A difficult lesson is to learn that the touch of kindness must be its own reward. We tend to want something back, but this need often leads to disappointment. My mom was a generous woman but she needed to feel the gratitude of others for what she had to give. She gave gratitude readily and was severely challenged to understand why others did not.
The converse of that is when the recipient of touch needs to express gratitude and the giver is not comfortable with the acceptance of it. Leonard Cohen writes “I couldn’t feel so I learned to touch.” When does touch cross over into use? I think that use may need to be conscious.
It is not unlike when a tactic becomes a manipulation. Tossing a question in a class and then waiting is a tactic. Steering a student to where you have decided that you want to go is a manipulation. Use and manipulations are words that come, in this context, with baggage. There must not always be negativity attached to the baggage, but there is responsibility. Responsibility often feels like baggage.
Being touched by someone else’s life is not always a positive experience. The exchange of touch usually requires a degree of faith and sometimes faith is broken, sometimes faith never existed. Sometimes what was created was the illusion of faith.
Sometimes we are touched by a leader or an author or even a celebrity, but are these vicarious touches real? Do they come with any responsibility on the part of the participants?
Sometimes we are blind to circumstances but we touch anyway. I have made mistakes in touching, but I refuse to just lay them aside. Perhaps that is hubris, or maybe a blending of religious code that stretches across three related faiths. I am responsible for those I have touched.
Touching someone’s life is sometimes an unwelcome gesture. I knew this man named David. I was in college and he was corporate in a family business of financiers. I needed a place to work. My girlfriend worked there. He was married with a child but he and my girlfriend had been lovers.
The dynamics of that example of touching lives was complex and profound and stupid and ultimately destructive. For my part, I planted seeds of rebellion. It was a finance company and I was hired to talk money out of people who had fallen arears. I was good at it. I had done it before.
My girlfriend worked the desk and payments and David managed the company that was owned by his family. I was still able to muster my skills of persuasion with style in a way that extracting payments from delinquent accounts gave me a sense of satisfaction. I could touch them with my language. My goal was for them to send payments. Most of them did, but there were some who couldn’t.
Her name was Carrie. She was an older woman whose husband had procured a one thousand dollar loan and then died. Carrie never saw the money. She was struggling to raise children on her own. But I used my ability to touch lives and got into her head. She took my calls. She would send five dollars every other month while the interest had more than topped out at the $1700 limit then limited by law. The five dollars would do absolutely nothing towards reducing the debt.
One afternoon I refused to call her. I told David that I just wanted him to lose the account. He refused and directed me to call. I refused and was fired.
I knew that I had touched Carrie’s life and David’s life in ways that were selfish. I was always just trying to get what I wanted. The truth is that it may always be that way and the trick is refining what it is that you want.
It is about scales I suppose but you have to be able to read them. Have you helped more than you hurt? Do you truly know when you have helped or hurt?
I do not pray in the conventional sense, but I pray for the lives that I have touched. My prayers are simple and honest. They come out in the form of hopes. For a person like myself, have hopes replaced prayer?
Have I learned about the nature of touching lives? Was it totally silly to have tried to touch them all? Maybe at best it was naïve. Touch must be selective. Touch is as much a responsibility as it is a gift.
Early on my lovers wanted me to write about them. Later, that changed and they begged me to stop. Other people’s vision is often not flattering. And the early requests were for flattery and confirmation of feelings expressed in intimate times. Intimacy is a key component of touching lives. Intimacy walks a winding path. Is it only strange to me that the sung word “lives” often sounds like “lies” to me? Sometimes a listen again and again, wondering if it is lives of lies that are touching me. Sometimes the distinction between them blurs. Lives and lies both have a way of accomplishing that.
I touch in part because I am touched. We are all touched by each other’s lives and actions and in my silent moments I pray that we have been touched by each other’s words.