To answer this question, focus not on celebrities or famous people in the news, but someone you've known who has touched your life and taught you an important lesson.
My high school civics teacher, Miss Sirabian, made a positive difference in my life. Unlike other teachers, she never talked down to her students. She was the first adult I ever knew who treated me as an equal.
Her class required lots of work. We studied American history, the Constitution and the founding principles of our democracy. And we had to do our own journalistic research, relating these principles to political issues and events in the daily news.
Each day, Miss Sirabian would ask us questions about all this. Dark-haired and petite, she would pace back and forth, challenging us to deal with hard concepts, asking us what we thought about politics, power, and world events. Then she'd sit at the front of her desk with a deep sense of presence, listening thoughtfully and sharing her own insights.
Born of Armenian immigrants, she took her American citizenship very seriously. 'In a democracy, it's not only our right but our duty to participate,' she said, adding, 'I've never missed an election in my life.'
With her dedication, openness, and authenticity, Miss Sirabian touched this class of unruly teenagers, making us aware of our destiny and duty as citizens. She took our ideas, our lives, and our collective future seriously and because of this, so did we.
Now, many years later, I realize how much her example has meant to me. For I, too, have never missed an election in my life. I have contacted state and federal representatives on issues I care about, registered voters, and worked to get out the vote by walking precincts, distributing flyers, and, lately, doing lots of phone banking.
I will always be grateful to Miss Sirabian for treating all of her students with equal respect, for living the democracy she taught, and for teaching us that we are responsible for the world we create.
Now it's your turn.
- For the next few moments, pause to recall someone in your life who has taught you a vital lesson—an older relative, neighbor, teacher, coach, or someone else you've known.
- As you connect with this person in your memory, breathing a little more slowly and deeply than usual.
- Focus on your heart as you experience appreciation and gratitude for their presence in your life.
- Feel this sense of gratitude flowing through you, reaching out to them through the distance of time to that space where we're all connected.
- And breathe their lesson into your heart.
When you're ready, gently open your eyes and ask yourself, "How can I express more of this lesson in my life today?"
I wish you joy on the path.
An earlier version of this story appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam. A new audio edition of The Tao of Inner Peace will be published in January, 2022 by Penguin Random House.
The breathing exercise incorporates the Heart-Focused Breathing technique from the HeartMath Institute. For more information on their breathing techniques for better health and greater peace of mind, see https://www.heartmath.org/