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The Most Important Lessons

“I learned all the most important lessons in life as a preschooler.” I read a quote like this taped up in the entryway of Cekirdek preschool one day when I picked up Banner Davut. It always stuck in my mind.

Last week I pulled a tall hardback book from our kids’ bookshelf at home. It’s a book called We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio. We had watched a movie called Wonder some years back based on the full-length book by the same author. I sat and read this children’s version with River and Brave on either side of me, in the same room where Banner Davut slept most of his nights.

Palacio tells the story of a boy named Auggie, who is noticeably different from the other kids because he only has one eye. River was amazed looking at the pictures as I read. Auggie knows he looks different than the other kids. It hurts his feelings when the other kids point and laugh.

I was choked up with emotion, barely able to read out these last lines:

“I know I can’t change the way I look.

But maybe, just maybe…

…people can change the way they see.

If they do, they’ll see that I’m a wonder.

And they’ll see that they’re wonders, too.

We’re all wonders!”

Beautifully simple. And profound. It’s not uncommon for me to get choked up reading a book to the kids. It’s a sweet moment when they look up at me, surprised. “Why is daddy crying?” they ask. Since their big brother went to Heaven, my heart is even more tender to the poignant messages that authors convey in their books.

I sense how true it is that these most basic of lessons are the same ones that the whole world needs to learn, and relearn. It seems that in a world ridden with racism and war, we’re having trouble putting into practice what we should have learned in preschool.

This semester I am teaching Social Entrepreneurship. It is an elective class I started to teach after Banner went to Heaven, motivated by a desire to connect my business teaching with social good. One topic is having empathy for marginalized people. If half of being a social entrepreneur is the business skills, the other half is the empathy and heart for the marginalized groups of people and the problems they encounter. I felt this book was worth sharing with the class.

I had the 25 or so students all gather in the front of the classroom. They willingly complied, appreciating the novelty. I sat on a table in front of them and held the book open to them as if I was preschool teacher.

I made it through the book, but then welled up with emotion sharing with the class how since Banner went to Heaven I have grown in my empathy for others. I know now that almost everyone is going through something hard. One student said, “I’m a wonder too,” and told about a disorder that is invisible to others but influences her every day.

I told the students I’m not ashamed to read a children’s book to them, because, after all, the most important lessons in life are learned in preschool.

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