The Old Dog and The Oklahoma Kids

The old-dog adage has been threatening my hopefulness for the future. Those words have been dancing around my head for the last month or so, as I have considered the accuracy of that axiom and its relevance outside the canine domain. My personal research points solidly to the proverb’s prediction for pooches.

Millie isn’t exactly old, but she isn’t a puppy either. But she clearly hasn’t added any new tricks to her repertoire, unless you include tearing past us through the house after romping in the wet and muddy yard and landing squarely on the foot of our bed’s freshly laundered comforter. Or consuming large chunks of the welcome mat. (She apparently isn’t a fan of hospitality.)

To be fair, we aren’t the most disciplined of dog owners, but it does seem that the window has passed for any real training to be successful. However, according to the experts, despite my own observations, it isn’t impossible for the older dog to learn new tricks. It just requires an unlearning process initially – all of the undesired learning that occurred in the earlier years when the pet was “learning” in the absence of intentional training has to be unlearned. This also requires dedication and patience on the part of the instructor, as it is a lengthy process.

I am definitely no longer a young pup; a fact that has become painfully clear in the last month as I began working on a Master’s in Public Health at the local campus of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. Things have changed in the world of education over the last 30-plus years since I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from ACU.

It also appears things have changed in the way my plus 30-plus-year-old brain learns new tricks. Math was never my strong suit in high school, even though I adored Mr. Chatwood – and he me -- and he excelled in that sort of optimism teachers have that students will one day awaken their latent affinity for algebra. I wasn’t a poor student, it was just that I didn’t love the magic of mathematical truths and my brain didn’t easily see the relationships among numbers. And so it was work.

That much has not changed. But battling my way through Biostatistics, I think even Mr. Chatwood might lose hope. My brain slogs through statistics and ponders probability at the rate of a slug. An old slug. The young and agile brain of my classmate stands in stark contrast. Thankfully, he is quick to offer tricks and explanations behind complicated formulas that sprawl across the page with symbols and constants Mr. Chatwood never got around to discussing with me. So far, with the help of my classmate, weekly lunchtime study sessions, and morning hours in the library by the sun-filled window, it is slowly unfolding. The other classes come more naturally, but even those require a different sort of attention than my much quicker brain required years ago. The joy of new-found knowledge and the fresh look at the world and the hope of being a part of progress in the realm of public health makes the hard work seem worthwhile.

This past week, Connecting Caring Communities had the honor of entertaining guests from Oklahoma: the staff of the newly developed non-profit, Community Renewal Shawnee. Both CCC, now about 12 years old, and the recent group in OK have common roots in the work that began in Shreveport in 1994 as Community Renewal International. The new pups in the world of community renewal, having spent much time at the feet of the parent group in Shreveport, decided to come and see what they could learn from their older siblings in Abilene.image1

They showed up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in their red “We Care.” shirts, and as they began sharing the story of Community Renewal Shawnee, their proclamation of caring was heard as well as seen. They were unanimous in their assertion; lady luck played no part in the way the group was pieced together as one by one each team member was called into action. They were clear about their mission: “We help neighbors restore community through intentional relationships.” They had already set out to accomplish that mission and have garnered good support from neighbors who have joined them on their caring team and as block leaders. We were able to share things that have worked well for us and other things that have not gone so well. We have modified the Shreveport model in some ways that we have found useful and wanted to pass on. We have strong ideas about the philosophy of Asset Based Community Development, and the act of relocation or re-neighboring that we wanted to convey strongly. We shared our connection with the Christian Community Development Association and urged them to connect there as well.

But we old dogs needed some new tricks, too, and they were willing to offer suggestions. Through their fresh and sharply focused eyes, they could see some things we couldn’t. We were too close and too sure of ourselves. In addition, it was no small thing to hear the passion in their voices and be reminded of when we were new and excited and the sky seemed the limit. Enthusiasm is an important part of the formula for this work, and I needed to be reminded of that.

It might take some unlearning, and some patience and time, but I think this old dog can still learn a new trick or two.