One of my brothers loves to solve puzzles, especially if they have mathematical or engineering components. He will quietly sit for long stretches of time poring over possible solutions. I have cousins and friends who devote tables in their homes to putting together jigsaw puzzles. In fact my mother-in-law often did the same thing. Somehow none of these kinds of mental gymnastics have ever appealed to me. I am willing to work with them for only a limited amount of time. What I enjoy are word puzzles of any kind and I am so addicted to them that I have to be careful not to spend an entire day working on them. I become so immersed that I don’t even seem to notice that it’s time for lunch or that the sun is going down. I suppose that there is some kind of curiosity gene in our DNA that prompts us to stretch our brains in pursuit of solutions to problems.
Solving puzzles of any kind invariably involves the art of observation, the foundation of both the arts and the sciences. If we watch, we learn as my mother always liked to say. For my brother the interplay of numbers and their effect on the universe and how things work is fascinating. For the jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts the features of individual pieces lead to discoveries of how things fit together. For me people are the source of interest, how they talk, what they say, how they behave. I am a people watcher and always have been. I become so engrossed in noting and analyzing the actions and words of those around me that my mother used to chide me for staring.
I like being in the corner of a room just enjoying the interplay of people. I don’t need to be part of their interactions to have a good time. I actually prefer just being an observer. I tend to be so good at chronicling what I see in the files of my mind that I have actually predicted serious illnesses and deaths before they happened. I have been able to see subtle changes in the behavior of an individual indicating some kind of health problem before the major symptoms even occurred. People have thought of me as some kind of psychic but instead I think it is just my ability to detect even the slightest differences in an individual’s aspect.
I am usually able to tell when someone is dealing with a serious situation that they are trying to hide from everyone else. I pick up on cues that alert me to anxiety and sorrow. Sometimes the only clue is a distant look in someone’s eyes that betrays their sadness or a sudden inability to concentrate that is out of character. I am often known as an amazingly empathetic person because of my skill. I suppose that it grew from years of watching over my mother and looking for signs that her mental illness was quietly evolving into a new psychotic episode.
My maternal grandmother never spoke English with me and my cousins. I have learned that there was a time when she worked in the public and even had enough command of the language to converse but by the time I came along she had lost whatever ability she may have had. The extent of her comments to us was to refer to each of us as “pretty boy” or “pretty girl.” I had little idea what my grandmother was thinking so I simply watched her and tried to imagine what was going on inside her mind at any given moment. I learned how to interpret her hand motions and nods of the head. I looked into her eyes to determine her moods. I suppose that she was my first foray into attempts to understand human behaviors.
I suspect that becoming a teacher was a natural fit for my profound interest in people. I might have taken my same skill into a career as a lawyer or doctor or psychologist or social worker but teaching seemed more personal and purposeful to me. I have always believed that many individual’s difficulties with learning stem from a lack of understanding of who they are and how much family history and environment affects them. Conveying knowledge takes way more than simply presenting information. A teacher must know and understand each pupil on a very deep level and care enough to take the time to help unravel the problems that are preventing them from learning. There is a science to teaching but also an art. Simply knowing content and having a few best practices and management skills is not enough. The best educators reach into the hearts and souls of their students.
Sometimes I think that it would be easier if I had focused my analytical puzzle solving skills on crosswords or Rubic’s cubes rather than being so engrossed in the unraveling of the human psyche. It can be exhausting to see the hurt and the pain that people are enduring and not be able to do much to help them. I marvel at those who do not even appear to notice the internal struggles of their fellow humans. They are able to simply enjoy life in their little bubbles delightfully unaware of all of the pain in the world.
We each have our talents and are able to solve different kinds of puzzles. I suppose that is what keeps the world moving as it does. Don’t ask me how to build something with my hands. In that regard I am inept, but if you need someone who can see and hear cries for help even when there is no sight or sound indicating trouble I am the person who will know what to do. It is a gift to be able to peer into the souls of the people around me and even when it becomes almost unbearable I know it is what I am supposed to do.