The train was unexpectedly quiet this morning, just me and another chap sat opposite at the table. Plenty of space. He wasn’t the stereotypical commuter: paint stained jeans and heavy woollen jumper, with a substantial wooden toolbox on the seat next to him. As i sat, i unpacked my iPad and keyboard, both of us sat there with the tools of our trade.
We got chatting: he was interested in what I was writing, about how I found the keyboard, whilst, as he gesticulated, i was fascinated by his hands. He was probably in his fifties, his hands heavy, thickened, with a deeply ingrained grit, blackened. Hands that told a story about his work, about his life.
In the old days, when flour for our bread was milled at the local watermill or windmill, the millstones wore down each year and had to be recut. There is a pattern of grooves that needs to be maintained. This job was done by roving stonecutters in a process called ‘dressing’ the stones. As the cutter dressed the stones, fragments of metal would chip off the chisel and become embedded in their forearm. As time went by, the longer they worked, the greater the discolouration and scaring of their skin. The call to ‘show us your mettle’, to show what you’re made of, comes from this: literally, show me your forearm, because your experience is written upon it.
As you learn your trade, it changes you, leaves it’s marks upon us. In my case, it’s more about bad posture and RSI than scars, but the point is the same. Of course, the physical changes are just part of the story: the real way that learning changes us is inside. What we believe, how we behave, our knowledge and the meaning we create out of it. As we learn, this all changes, we adapt and create new meaning.
So our learning journey leaves scars on the outside and changes on the inside. Some written large in the calluses and muscles, others just in our actions, but to learn is to change.