But even before this past week or so, I have been thinking of her. It has been dawning on me lately, how blessed I was to be born to this woman. In Buddhist teachings, we hear of karma. We hear of how we planted seeds of actions way back in the past and how these now ripen as experiences, as appearances, as the content of our lives. To have appeared in Jenny Tyrrell's life, I had extraordinary karma ripening.
Heading to Hong Kong with my Dad at the age of 32, when my brother and I were two and four respectively, she took on a job as a primary school teacher at Kellet School in sunny Pokfulam. Here, she began her quiet revolution of sparking the creativity of her students. She made them dream. She encouraged their imaginations. She fed them stories. She revolutionized the reading practices of the entire school, taking away the dreary curriculum and it's Roger Red Hat haze and introducing Where the Wilds Things Are, big books that encouraged big minds. She would come home, and my brother and I would receive her instruction directly. She constantly read us books. She turned me into a writer. How could I not become a writer in her presence?
When we were teenagers, Mum had a breakthrough year. It began one late summer afternoon when, while preparing for a new school year for a class of six year olds, she made a make believe bear. Well no, this was partly my fault. I had accompanied her to school that day. I was starting to get bored so she sent me to the theater cupboards as a distraction. I came back with a life-sized bear suit and proceeded to fill him with newspaper. At which point, Mum's eyes lit up. We found a pair of tights to turn into a head and stuck on eyes, and then she got some sheets out and started to build a cave.
A week later, the school year started. A bunch of six year olds appeared and slowly started to realize that a bear was living in a cave in a corner of the classroom. They began to befriend the bear and Mum used him as a vehicle to unlock their inherent curiosity. They studied bear's lives, they made books for the bear to help him to read, they created an entire birthday party for him--and set out on a fieldtrip to the grocery store down the road to research the making of jelly.
As they were doing all this, they were learning maths, science, reading - and they were learning fast. Astonishing things began to happen during the course of this bear year. Troubled kids, some who had severe autism, some whose sisters had died, whose parents were divorcing and weren't talking because they were so traumatized, started to turn to the bear. When no-one was looking, they crawled into the cave and they talked to him. They told him about their pain, and they started to heal. My Mum would quietly hover near the cave and overhear their words, and know how to help.
I have started to realize just how much I have to be thankful for, for having this woman as my mother. She is a scholar of the imagination - and everything I do is powered by that. These RacingThePlanet writing jobs that I do (and I have another one in Antarctica starting tomorrow), they require the imagination. I sit in my living room and get fed raw information from the world's far flung deserts, and my job is to turn it all into real stories.
Then I go further and think of my entire Buddhist practice: What is our life, other than our imagination? What are our problems and our joys, other than thoughts? In Buddhism, we learn how to create mandalas with our minds. We learn to train our powers of imagination so strongly that we start to see the purity in all living beings around us. We learn to see their inherent goodness, their compassion and not their 'apparent' faults. To imagine is key: How can we cultivate compassion, if we are not able to imagine the heartache of another? If we are not able to lift our mind off ourself for one moment and onto another?
So as Thanksgiving dawns on America, as one of the most lovely festivals of this country comes into being, I dedicate this post to my Mum. To say thank you. To the power of a great teacher. To the power of a loving parent. May all good come your way.
(P.S. Dad, don't worry, there's an entire post coming about the Zen ways you took me sailing and showed me how to ride the wind, and how that has taught me how to meditate, but that's another post entirely)
Photo credits: Top - Wiki Commons; Below - Illustration by David Schofield from 'The Power of Fantasy in Early Learning' by Jenny Tyrrell, Routledge Falmer.