Reputation: You get one before you’re aware.

July 26, 2010

I’ve been wondering lately how character develops. I’ve been wondering how it is I can see little shadows of myself in every self I look back at. I wonder how certain adults were so confident in what I’d become. I wonder how they could have known about how I approach the world…how did they see the way I think while I couldn’t? Before I had the logic to even consider character or the reasoning skills to determine if I was consistent, some of the adults in my life knew.
I remember talking to an advisor at 12 years old…tearful, worried, and somewhat selfish. Just wanting to love. Wanting to be loved and admired. The story of middle school. Somehow though, she said she could see who I was through every word I said. “You have a big heart. You have an open, caring, giving, gentle spirit. I see it in what you do.” Flashbacks and memories to stories written in composition class about children who needed help, needed comfort, were sad without their parents–complete with stick-figure drawings and worried, whispered prayers– or the poem I wrote that got an award about a struggle and finding God in a struggle. It was my struggle. It was our struggle. But I don’t know if anyone knew. Could this be what she was getting at?
Reminders of later in middle school…hoping for the best. Those secret times of thought. The friend who knew about those hopes had a shocked look in her eyes. How could we have known at 14 what I was? But there were tears in her eyes. She felt what I felt, for a moment. The hopes I had for them…all spilling out, overwhelmed, and ready to go back into my “open heart” for another time. That night I had expressed them, and we stood in the back of the room, collecting our thoughts, getting ready to carry on. I don’t know if she ever saw me the same. I didn’t.
Flashing back to older times…just wanting to make them feel better again. Not understanding from my place, only three and a half feet high, that no one could. Grief was beyond me, was untouchable…and it still is. I can only journey through with them, alongside them, and maybe sometimes feel the same. But I ached to help. I mourned for the living. I cried because I couldn’t help. How did I see that and feel that, then run and play with my toys? Those are big feelings…and I was such a little girl, hunting down my finger paint and a favorite book. Then, I couldn’t think too far into the future. I had to understand that death took family away, sometimes with warning, and sometimes without. I didn’t even want to go into the eighth grade. They were so old and powerful. Some time after eighth grade, people died. They couldn’t be read again like my favorite stories. The only thing we could say was goodbye. Watching the family say goodbye and not being able to help was torture. I couldn’t conceptualize what they were going through. But when you’re 6 years old, these things pass out of your memory and into your heart for later, when your’e older.
The spunk, the drive, the determination…like refusing to let go of a stray kitten until I was told I could take it home…the feeling of being in the midst of a card game and winning…or making a great play in gym class soccer. Goalie via stomach, goalie via face. I was all smiles amidst a bloody nose. I was helping. I was part of the helping team on a team that didn’t always win, but played with all of our hearts. And I was crummy. I had no clue what I was doing. But I did it with all of my heart.
And the lemonade stands were epic. Ours came with smiles. And hair ribbons. We celebrated with the ice cream man and the people at the dollar store. Combined effort and shared reward. Buying supplies for another scorcher.
In the deep end at the pool…I was always scared. It was deep and dark. But it was scarier when the others were scared. Sometimes the way I looked at life wasn’t popular. Sometimes everything looked like the deep end. Everybody was scared. Those are the times I got tired of swimming. I tried to find nicknames. New ways of doing things that just weren’t me. A sassy attitude. A dash of apathy. Life as myself wasn’t safe. It was strive or sink. Swimming wasn’t enough. One day, though, I relearned. I had a “duh” moment. Then I just regretted those wasted days. I could have helped and grown so much. So I just try harder. And I did it and still do it with all my heart…and those feelings of being fully alive, like waking from a great nap…those come back.
Where on earth does this come from? I’ve seen it and felt it all my life. It’s not planned. Before I would think, I was there. I was always there, little pieces of me…playing in the background, waiting to grow up, and learning from the world around me. All of the years of color and light can blend together. And somehow, in the bright, bombastic beauty of all those years…these retold stories come to life and make me tremble. They make me see that something’s been building here and it’s ingrained into my life. My character and who-am-I are as central to me as my name. Sometimes I wonder which my heart knows better.


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