After hearing of the passing of two of my teachers this week, I was again considering something I learned from the movie ‘Big Fish‘. At the end of the movie, after struggling with his relationship with his father, the son says of him:
“… a man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him. And in that way, he becomes immortal.” – Will Bloom, Big Fish
(written by Daniel Wallace (novel), John August (screenplay))
I am a story teller, a skill I learned by watching my father. My father is also a school teacher. I would say ‘was’ a school teacher, as he is retired. But I don’t really think that good teachers ever stop teaching and they don’t even necessarily need to seek that as a profession to be a good teacher.
After hearing of the most recent passing of professor Ron DeRoo, whom served as an accompanist and co-clinician for a music group I was involved with in High School and from whom I also took jazz piano instruction later on while attending college, I got to pondering those words from the movie again.
Specifically, I got to thinking about what kinds of pursuits in life are most prone to fit with the nature of the Big Fish ‘story telling’. I came to the conclusion that the three that most stick out in my mind are those of teachers, writers and philosophers.
More so than any other life pursuit or profession, (good) teachers will influence the most lives. The nature of teaching is to influence others. To provide them with information to help form their thoughts and ideas. Of all the teachers I can think of, those who influenced me the most were those that did not simply provide me with information in a given subject but instead provided insights in a way that they could be applied to any subject.
A truly good teacher, whether by vocation or their very nature, will lead you to look at life and reality in a different way. They will not simply provide you with information and knowledge, but will help you to formulate how you absorb such knowledge and further teach you how to continue to do so when you are no longer benefiting from their direct tutelage.
When you watch others speak fondly of people they have known, people that have had the greatest impact on their lives, they more often than not speak of people that taught them things or gave them insights that helped improve their minds, their lives or there way of approaching any variety of circumstances.
I originally considered ‘artists’ in general for this grouping, but decided instead to focus just on the art of writing. Writing consists of using words that represent concepts to convey ideas. Even if writing fantastic fiction, the author above any other art form, has the most direct connection to specific concepts and manners of creating and influencing thoughts.
The practice of any art form that is well mastered will require that the artist puts a great portion of their heart and soul into the results of their art. But where an actor can only show you their skill in portraying a role, a painter can only show you their mastery of creating images with their pallet or a dancer can only express ideas through motion, the writer has to convey those concepts and conceptualizations that they possess through combinations of words directly representing those concepts.
Other mediums fall short of passing along such vivid combinations of ideas. The use of words, word phrasings, combinations of perceptions and circumstances, and the ability to portray all of them only through the written form requires a direct link into the mind of the artist writing the words.
The category of philosopher is actually a bit of a redundancy when included with the other two, as the best teachers and writers generally will also require a foundation built upon a good philosophy. Actually all of them are somewhat redundant, as they all tend to overlap — even someone who’s primary means of communicating their ideas is through telling them directly must create those ideas not-unlike a writer does. Even if they are doing so in-the-moment.
Philosophy, directly translated, means the ‘love of knowledge’. As a branch of scientific examination, it is the study of knowledge as it relates to reality. As Ayn Rand (the philosopher who has had the greatest influence on me) once said (paraphrasing), everyone has some kind of philosophy – a way of living, dealing with their surroundings and making choices – whether they choose to see it that way or not. Some of us spend more time and effort defining and examining our philosophy, and some arrive at distinct conclusions that they communicate to others who find them worthy of consideration.
So whether they are formal or informal philosophers, it is those who help us to form our way of interacting with the world that will ultimately influence us enough to spread on part of their own essence and way of thinking in us. Thus, I am reasonably certain that those who will live on the longest after they perish from this world will be the teachers, the writers and the philosophers.
As a final thought, I’d like to re-post my statement in the guestbook for my beloved teacher:
… I remember Mr. DeRoo fondly from my [many years of knowing him.] It is quite sad to hear of his passing, but he was the sort who touched many lives and inspired many smiles. He shared his love of life and his joy and knowledge for music with many and will be remembered by all.
Whenever I hear of someone passing, I reflect on a lesson I learned from the movie ‘Big Fish’ – those people who touch the most lives, live on forever in the hearts and minds of those they influenced and never die so long as people speak of them or share and pass on what they gained from knowing them.