By Our Teachers We are Taught

Paulus’ hand in the middle of a collage made with paste papers. He taught me so much.

from one of my journals, a collage of paste papers and Paulus’ hand.

It is part of being human that we learn what others teach us.

A flame that burned our fingers taught us hot.
A shoulder turned away taught us lonely.
The palm of the hand of another on the top of our head taught us comfort.

We are always learning, honing our choices based on what just happened, what we witness, and what we desire.

Our lives are filled with teachers.
We are taught by our parents and by our children.
Our dogs and our dahlias teach us.
We are taught by the people in our life, necessary lessons, and long term lessons planted in our hearts early, which do not detonate their insight until much later in our lives.

We learn to pay attention.

Monday morning, I sat in a yoga class taught by one of my writing students.
She quoted me before I had time to brace myself. I sat attentive on my mat, hands in Angeli mudra, listening, tuned to the words from my chosen teacher of the day. She fed me back my own wisdom, something about taking full residence in our bodies and listening from that place. I was too surprised by her mention of “my teacher Suzi” to hear her exact words.

We teach & We are taught. .

Studying with Joy Seidler and Caverly Morgan at Penland, Paulus stopped in to say hello.

Different teachers reach different parts of our presence. One teaches us how to handle cars on snowy streets by taking us to the high school parking lot to pull doughnuts in the VW bug on a white crisp winter afternoon. Another teaches us to breath out on a sigh, preparing us for all the letting go that we will have to do in motherhood. A mother’s breath, she said. I heard that. I breath like that, soften my jaw, let my tongue rest in my throat, inhale deeply, voice a sigh on the exhale.

I am getting to it. I am really, getting to the point of this post. I have learned from my beloved pal Janet, that I write the opening of my pieces about midway down the page. My other beloved pal Katey taught me that I circle my ideas for few paragraphs before the story starts. Same lesson, different teachers. You get to see for yourself.

My teacher Paulus died last Thursday evening.

On the night he died, there were fireflies in my oak and pear trees.
The Cedar Wax Wings chimed in the Shad tree out front, dining on pink berries.
There was a trio of young deer as I left Karen’s house that evening.

He and I last spoke on the day before I departed for Armenia in late October of last year. He sent me blessings for the adventure I was about to embark upon. Since his death, I have reread his cards and letters to me. Thankfully, this is not an email search, but hard copy handling of paper he wrote upon and folded neatly in to envelopes just for me. I read his words. I hear his voice. I hear the way he said my name.

Paulus taught me to weave to pages of the same image together.

Paulus taught me so much.

I will live my life cataloguing his teaching within my heart. But for today, I know that my work has been so influenced by his presence, his kind attention, the way he held space for his own work, how generous he was, how consistent he was, all of his journals filling shelves with his daily thoughts and ideas. I teach my students what he taught me, to weave paper, to use double board and frame out images within covers of journals, how to ease a newly sewn spine of a Coptic Stitch Journal on the padded arm of a couch. He’d stand next to me and without words, model the way my hands could move around the spine of a book.


To spring from the hand of God.

Now he is gone. He arranged to be buried in the first green cemetery in North Carolina. Last summer, he asked us to contribute painted papers to decorate his cardboard casket. I did what I always do, I gathered my people. I had a paste paper party in my backyard and we painted papers. Not everyone knew Paulus directly, but they have heard me speak of him or seen this documentary about his life. Some of our papers are now buried in North Carolina soil, south of Asheville.


My teacher will continue to teach me, even in his absence.
It is up to me to pay attention.
And this is the best and only way to learn.

Pay attention.
Let it be slow.
Savor every moment.

Thank you Paulus. xo, S


Here are the bonus parts of this post.

An image by my friend Jennifer, who I am teaching to make books.

And this video of Paulus.

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