The Past As A Teacher

©Kathleen Spatuzzi Photography, Used with Permission

Editor’s Reflections

The Past As A Teacher is Kierra Caissey’s first contribution to The Story Continues blog. Kierra was another one of my best and brightest students and like Kali Regan( another of our contributors), in the top 1% of my students at Utica University. Her piece particularly resonates with me because of my affinity for the teachings of crow. Jamie Sams and David Carson speak of the teachings of crow in their book, Medicine Cards:

Honor the past as your teacher, honor the present as your creation, and honor the future as your inspiration.

Kierra not only teaches us that we are never too young or old to reflect on the teachings of our past, but that we can learn to make room for perspectives we can incorporate in addition to our core beliefs. She also eloquently reminds us that we need to make room for experiences that are not readily explained through science, but nonetheless real to those who experience them. In the process, she explains how integrating different perspectives helped her transform the relationship with her late grandmother.

Because Dave was one of my favorite professors at Utica College, it is of no surprise to me that When The Psychology Professor Met The Minister found its way to the top of my list of favorite books. As a student in Dave’s classes, many of the stories he shared in the book are even more touching when heard in real time. Many of the lessons he covered in his classes were always enjoyable, but the lessons he encourages his students to learn often transcend past the classroom and into a plethora of areas within their lives – I can personally attest to this.

Dave’s humility and openness to experiencing the world around us for all that it is – even when things cannot be easily explained – not only made him a professor I deeply admired but a friend and colleague I cherish. Patty was a guest lecturer in one of my classes with Dave and I still remember how scrunched up my face and how furrowed my eyebrows were as she discussed her journey as a minister and her spiritual relation with the afterlife. Dave is incredibly perceptive and after the lecture finished, he engaged me in a conversation about how questioning everything around us, the unknown, and being open to what varying perspectives can offer us can be gratifying. Being fortunate to have gotten to read Dave and Patty’s book a couple years later, I see the stories they once shared in the classroom with my peers – and all of their newly discussed stories, with fresh eyes (and less brow furrowing).

Much like Dave discusses, the field of psychology calls for evidentiary support for any claim, to be concrete in one’s approach, and to justify thoughts, emotions, and behavior in scientific ways. I often furrowed my eyebrows and grit my teeth against Patty and Dave’s lessons in undergrad, likely for a few reasons, but mainly because I had to recognize how uncomfortable it can be to experience things that are ostensibly unexplainable by science and fact, even though they are not necessarily coincidences, either. Trying to find a balance between science and spirituality can be difficult. I feel grateful for Patty and Dave who challenge the status quo by integrating more than one perspective into their lives when facing grief, relationships, and the overall human experience.

One of the greatest lessons Dave has taught me is how the past can be one of our greatest teachers; reflection is powerful. Looking back almost three years later on the lecture Patty gave our Death, Dying, and Bereavement class, I have a great appreciation for the strength that lies within her vulnerability to have shared her intimate experiences with us as someone who supports families and friends in their grieving processes. I was inspired to delve further into my own grieving experience after reading When The Psychology Professor Met The Minister.

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Nana’s Cardinal Sign

As a result of Dave and Patty’s book, I developed a greater appreciation for the signs from my own deceased loved ones; I stopped over-analyzing every experience and began appreciating the comfort in knowing that love has minimal (if any) barriers,  if we choose to accept such a concept. Every cardinal that lands on the sun porch while my mother and I share morning coffee together (the way we used to when my late grandmother was around – my grandmother’s favorite bird), seeing “Nana” coffee mugs decorated with cardinals at the grocery store near my favorite snack aisle, or hearing her favorite song on the radio in the car reminds me I am still enveloped by the love we shared as nana and granddaughter, years after her passing. The beauty of Dave and Patty’s book is that they encourage their readers to dig deeper into their beliefs and to reflect with intention about what their successes, shortcomings, and connections to people can teach them. I have felt more empowered in my grieving process as a result of allowing myself to see the signs around me and feel comfort and solace as a result; even if I am the one assigning the meaning of each sign. Being able to choose my path during my grieving process has made me a stronger and more sentimental friend, daughter, granddaughter, and person.

The freedom one can gain from using the past as one’s teacher finds me now as I write this blog submission, knowing that so much of my grief experience and life path of my own has been made more peaceful from Dave’s presence in my life as a mentor, and from his and Patty’s experiences shared in When The Psychology Professor Met The Minister.

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Kierra’s Bio

Kierra Caissey attended Utica College, graduating in 2021 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a minor in Health Ethics. In between research projects and serving as a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Kierra was a 4-year member of the Utica College women’s soccer team. Kierra now serves her local community as a residential counselor for Open Sky Community Services, using the skills she gained in undergrad from her classes and mentors to teach adults with various mental or physical health conditions how to lead fuller, healthier, and more confident lives. When she’s not working as a counselor, Kierra can be found coaching soccer for the FC Stars soccer club, where she gets the greatest joy and fulfillment through sharing her love and knowledge of the game with the next generation of kids in her area. She draws strength from her close friendships, her parents, and her best friend (dog) Rocky. She hopes that through her career in mental health and coaching that she can leave the places she gives her time to even better than they were when she found them.

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