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Seaborn: Back to school, if we ever left

Posted: August 9, 2017 - 12:55am

"It is a wise man who can learn about one thing from another."

- Plotinus, Third Century

Though I no longer have children to cajole out of bed on their first day back to school, a few dozen sightings of the familiar yellow buses driving through my neighborhood, or lengthening my stop-and-go driving on a bus-traveled road, are enough to keep Georgia's back-to-school children on my mind this week, too.

Ah, school. My youngest grandson used to count the days, but now that he is older, he and his friends can think of a lot of things they would rather do than be among the first in the nation to surrender sleepy, summer days at home for sleepy, boring hours in the classroom.

Shall we break it to them now, or let the unenthralled learn it later by themselves? Hey, kids, school never ends - not by Memorial Day to compensate for your "early-bird special" return this month, not at graduation, not even when you walk across the stage for that final, advanced degree. School, learning of some kind, goes on for the rest of your life because there is so much to learn.

"What do they mean by cold fusion?" I once asked my super-intelligent, scientific friend. He worked at the Savannah River Site so I thought he'd know.

It's like splitting an atom," he replied, "only they do it at room temperature."

"Oh," I responded, more confused by the answer than I was by the question. I knew eggs beat faster at room temperature, but not that the world might soon have a cheaper and more plentiful energy supply because a couple Nobel Prize-winning scientists had discovered that some little things under a microscope are just as attracted to each other (fused) at the same, climate-controlled thermostat setting we humans prefer as when they are swimming around in their 50-million degree (Celsius) tanks.

Whether we're scientists or saddled with a semi-literate, average IQ, learning seldom comes in one blinding burst, but in stages - slow stages, over long periods of time, and based on all the things we've learned or experienced before.

Most of the time I think what I learn is about 10 years too late, like new theories for raising children or monitoring my health. But often, what I learned years ago and couldn't see much use for at the time, becomes valuable in a crisis, one time in particular:

My young children were asleep in the back of the station wagon as I drove along a stretch of two-lane, country highway. Suddenly a horse darted onto the road in the oncoming lane directly in front of a car coming in the opposite direction. Thankfully, that driver was able to stop before hitting the horse or swerving and hitting me. But the driver behind that car, who didn't have enough time to stop, swerved directly into my path. Without flinching, I simply moved over and let that car pass safely between us.

I get chills now thinking about that potential tragedy, but at the time we had just returned from living in Germany where drivers frequently ignore lane markings. Other drivers expect this to happen so they just move over and make room for the extra driver to get through.

What did you learn today? "Oh, nothing," my children, or perhaps I myself, used to say. Sometimes that may be true. Then again, that new discovery or discarded experience could be the very thing that replenishes the world's resources, wins a Nobel Prize, or saves the lives of those you love.

Barbara Seaborn is a local, freelance writer and author of the book, As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County's Past. E-mail comments to seabara@aol.com.

 

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