When I was in elementary school, we had a substitute teacher that filled in frequently. His name was of some debate, but I remember him being called Mr. Nerf by staff, but he called himself Mr. Nerd. He was the first among the hipsters; before such a thing existed. With wildly curly hair that made his head seem too big for his slim frame, he was almost a caricature. He always wore a huge smile. He filled in for our gym teacher, usually. This meant he dressed athletically–wearing VERY short shorts with tall socks and sneakers that looked like he had outrun Forrest Gump. He played all sorts of games with us, from the usual Red Rover to his own made up adventures. It was one such adventure that has come to mind lately. This is the adventure I’d like to share with you.
First, let me set the scene. I attended an “inner city” public school on the East side of Indianapolis. We are not a rural bunch, us East-siders. Oh sure, now we’ve got homesteaders with full on chicken coops and heirloom gardens popping up here and there, but none of that existed (at least to my knowledge) back then. This scene opens with young, adorable, pig-tails-braids-down-to-my-waist-me attending school like any other day. It’s probably 2nd or 3rd grade and lucky me—it’s gym day! Only when we get there we find out that our regular teacher is out for the day. In her place—YES!!—It’s Mr. Nerd!! Will it be chalkboard eraser relay races today? Or perhaps he will let us sneak an extra day on those blue plastic square scooters that always manage to snag our clothes and pig-tails? Not today! He instructed us to line up—it would be outside play today. His genius never failed—EXTRA RECESS.
Except—it wasn’t exactly what we planned. We queued up, ready for kickball and jump rope. But he marched us straight past the playground and across the teacher’s parking lot to the empty field that everyone complained about. Refrains of “Who owns that anyway?” and “Why doesn’t someone just go mow that down already?” were common from parents and teachers alike. I had always seen the field as an eyesore. But on this fateful day, that would change.
Mr. Nerd had us find a spot to settle in. He then began picking what I had always known as dandelions. Weeds. Common things that were a pest and chore for homeowners everywhere. These were HUGE dandelions that had gone to fluff already. Mr. Nerd started talking about plants, and that they were more than what they seemed. Some plants, he said, had medicine in them. Some were even tasty to eat. Then he did something I will never forget. He picked a particularly thick stalked specimen, took out a pocket knife, sliced the stem root end to flower end and he DRANK IT.
Surely we were through the looking glass now. I expected him to fall over, clutching his throat and dramatically sputter and flail about. But none of that happened. He just had that big smile on his face. He even threw in a satisfied “Aaaahhhh” for good measure. He continued to educate us on the benefits of plants, most of which not only grew in our yards, but were around us as we sat in the field that day.
At the time, it didn’t seem like a landmark day. It was interesting, probably induced a “guess what?!?” session when I got home, but didn’t seem to stick out in my head. Until recently. You see, I’m delving into a path of herbalism. If this were Hogwarts, I’d be yearning for another day in Herbology, studying under Professor Sprout and pulling as many mandrakes as my Hufflepuff mitts could reach. So how did I get from pig tails to Herbology? I like to think that Mr. Nerd planted a seed. Pun totally intended.
When I decided to sit down and write this post, it was with a song in mind. I know—that seems like a curve ball, but hear me out. A song that has been common through my adult years as a source of inspiration and motivation to spread joy and love where I can. And one that doesn’t seem to have much to do with Mr. Nerd’s story, at least on the surface. The song is called “Share the Well” by Caedmon’s Call. This song (video below) was written by the group following a mission trip to India. While the specifics of the song ring beautifully true for me, it’s the wider message that applies more and more frequently to my life.
Photo Credit: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/harrypottersworld/herbology.htmlThese folks are gettin’ their Herbology on. Five points to Hufflepuff.
I encourage you to listen to this song, and to really hear the words being said. The song speaks about how there are those who are dying of thirst while others stand guard over the well that could save them. It pulls into light the fact that the water, as it flows, doesn’t have any regard for who will drink of it. It flows because it is meant to.
It flows because it is meant to.
Enter again Mr. Nerd’s words to a group of inner-city kids who thought he was insane for drinking from a dandelion stem that day. He knew he had knowledge and that we, as students, needed it. It flowed from him. Because it was meant to. For some, it may have just washed by. But for me, it stuck.
I believe every interaction we have is for some purpose. The level of importance may vary, but there is a lesson to be learned from every person we encounter, in my opinion. Mr. Nerd taught me that dandelions were not weeds. They were plants with healing inside. Would I have found my way to the Plant People without him? Maybe. But I’m grateful he shared his well. May we each do the same, when the time comes.