I’ve returned from another writer’s conference. Another lesson in humility.
I’ve had lunch with an award winning poet…
Listened to a author that can take the English language and shape it into intimately personal memories I’ve not actually experienced but would swear I recognize…
It makes my heart beat faster when I sit in class and hear so many terms and ideas that I’ve never heard before. It’s like swimming in a murky lake and enjoying the coolness of the water on a hot day but having the constant chatter of doubt in the back of your head.
How deep is this water?
What just brushed against my leg?
Maybe I should head to shore?
Maybe I’m above my head.
But then this…
Our instructor asked us to write down secrets about ourselves.
Then she asked for volunteers to relate what they wrote down.
If you sat next to me, you might have heard the soundproof walls come crashing down around me.
Secret (definition) : something that is meant to be kept unknown.
I’m just assuming she didn’t understand the term.
Interestingly, several classmates were willing to confess their darkest secrets to complete strangers. Theft, sleeping with a married man, pornography….Wow.
In front of me, a girl in her early twenties. She’s wearing a jean jacket embellished with patches that are curling at the edges. (ironing these on doesn’t work as well as sewing but who has time?) Next to her was a girl with an asymmetric hairstyle—the longer, curly strands had faded from blue to metal-grey while the shorter, cropped side revealed her darker roots.
To my right side, an overweight man (late twenties) in a too large chino jacket with his hair pulled into a pony-tail. His disclosure sounded like a declaration of defiance.
“No one knows who I really am.”
The blue-haired girl immediately nodded in agreement. I heard her whisper to her friend, “I don’t even know who I am.”
On my left, a man leaned back in his chair as he listened to the comments. He had a full head of grey hair that was swept away from a faintly lined face. Long legs, clad in faded blue jeans, stretched out leisurely in front of him. A hint of a smile crossed over his lips.
Maybe he shared in their confusion… he wondered who he was, too.
Or maybe he knew the answer.
I’m betting it was the later. He looked a little smug.
I know the answer too.
Perhaps wisdom really does come with the onset of silver strands.
You are the sum of decisions you have made.
That’s it. That’s exactly who you are.
I’m not discounting what has happened to you as a child.
But even in extraordinary circumstances like child abuse, counseling can do a lot to restore children. (Thank you, Children’s Advocacy Center!)
But what truly defines you lies in an almost endless series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that you’ve made. It’s also why you can’t possibly know who you are when you’re still young.
Don’t get me wrong, the big decisions count too. Deciding to go to college, accepting the first job, moving out of state…those have an effect.
But what I’m talking about is more subtle.
Paying for the item the cashier forgot to ring up.
Going to work when you’re bone-tired from a late night
Volunteering to do a job when you’re already feeling overwhelmed
Giving that speech even if it makes your palms sweat and your heart race.
Smiling when you don’t want to
Forcing yourself to run a little further than yesterday.
Drinking tea instead of coffee
Being courteous to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Returning the the twenty dollar bill that slipped from a stranger’s pocket
Honoring your commitments, even if others don’t
Writing a check for a charity, putting money in the collection basket, collecting food for Thanksgiving.
Having a deep belief in the powers of chocolate
Staying up late to study
Admitting when you’ve made a mistake
Turning the other cheek when you’d rather return the attack
Making cupcakes for your child’s classroom
Making no excuses
Going on a mission trip
Holding up your friend when she grieves over the loss of a marriage, a job…a child
It’s a lifetime of decisions that you’ve made.
And one day you will realize that…
You’ve become an honest, reliable, tea-drinking, strong, kind, chocolate-addicted, hard-working, and brave person.
Something else altogether.
It’s your decision.