image from: i.village.com
I have a list of things I want to do, and slowly I've begun to cross items off of the list. One small thing I wanted to was to enter a writing a contest. I wasn't so concerned with winning, but I did want to write something I felt was worthy of entering into some sort of contest.
I chose to enter the Real Simple Second Annual Life Lessons Contest. I wrote an essay answering the question: When did you realize that you had become a grown-up? While I didn't answer this question as directly as the editors might wish, I did have fun writing and thinking about the moments when I have felt grown up. Congratulations to Andrea Decker of Arizona for winning the competition.
I also am trying to do things that scare me. Sharing some of the experiences in this essay in a public forum scares me. It's okay to be scared sometimes. Being scared shouldn't hold me back from doing things I want to do, unless it's doing something really stupid or dangerous. And sharing this essay isn't really stupid or dangerous. So, here goes...
For your reading enjoyment, here is my non-winning essay:
I’m not done growing up and I freely admit it. I still struggle to learn the lessons that life has to teach me, but over the years I’ve learned to follow my heart. I’ve also learned I can’t be passive and still be a grown up. Looking back on some key turning points in my life, I can see that the times I actually did feel grown up, were because I trusted and followed my heart.
I remember one time when I was sixteen years old, sitting on the stairs with my father and him telling me, “The only reason I’m still here is because of you kids.” I remember not knowing what to say or feel. “Then leave, we’d be better off without you,” I said without thinking. I looked up at him, waiting for him to say something, and thought, “Only a grown up girl should hear a thing like this from her father.” And when he said nothing, my heart hardened into steel. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the steel there, but I thought I would try it for a while. I felt a little grown up that day.
Many months later in the local corner store, I stood listening to some boys I knew talk about my dad, the small town cop. He had caught them making mischief a few days earlier and turned them over to their parents for discipline. They were saying how mad their parents were and how stupid my dad was, and were calling him some pretty bad names. I felt my heart harden again and thought, “That’s it. I no longer care what these people think. I’m not going to live my life worrying about what they think.” I stepped around the aisle and said to them, “That’s my dad you’re talking about. He was just doing his job. Maybe, if you hadn’t done those things, you wouldn’t be in trouble now and your parents wouldn’t be mad at you.” As I walked away not caring what they said in return, my heart softened just a bit and I felt grown up that day.
When I was almost nineteen and training for the Navy I met a very cute, young Marine. He invited me to dance and the next thing I knew I was being kissed for the very first time. I floated home. The next day at lunch my roommate came up to me and furiously asked, “What were you doing kissing my boyfriend at the club last night?” I was stunned and crashed back down to earth with a broken heart. I was so disappointed. This wasn’t at all how I had pictured my first kiss. Later when he found me at dinner and tried to act like nothing had happened, I stopped him. “You can’t act like nothing happened. You don’t play fair. You’re a liar and a thief. You stole a moment from me that I can never get back,” I told him. As I stood up for myself, I felt my heart come back together a little. I guess it wasn’t steel after all. I felt grown up that day.
A couple of years later, I was a missionary for my church in Chile. The postman was delivering mail to a woman down the street and when he saw that we were missionaries, he began yelling obscenities at us for no reason. My heart stopped. How do you respond to something like that? Without thinking I opened my mouth and started singing a hymn I had recently memorized in Spanish. He stopped yelling and actually listened. My heart lightened as I walked away. I hadn’t responded in anger, but had still stood up for my beliefs. I had followed my heart, and I felt so tall and grown up that day.
A few years later, I boarded a plane to England on orders from the Navy. I would finally see Big Ben and the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park, walk down Bond and Oxford Streets, visit the Lake District and Penzance, and meet a boy with an English accent. I was so full of dreams. I did meet a boy with an accent and we fell in love. He asked me to marry him and I said yes, ignoring the voice inside my heart telling me to say no. I threw myself headlong into the relationship, determined to make it work between us no matter the cost. I kept ignoring all the little things that didn’t add up, including the voice telling me, “He is not the one for you.” After months of waiting for him to do his part on the visa paperwork, I listened to my heart. I did love him (as much I could then), but I could finally see that it really wasn’t right. I gathered my courage and told him no, I couldn’t marry him. I watched his face crumple and his heart break--and my own heart broke too. It was hard to believe I could cause that much pain in another person. It hurt so much to keep saying no as he begged me to reconsider, told me he’d change and that he loved me. I finally showed him to the door and closed it softly; stood for a moment, then turned and walked away without looking back, knowing in my heart I had finally done the right thing. I felt very grown up that day.
After living in England for almost three years, I returned home to attend school and actually moved back in with my parents. My youngest brother, who was seventeen years old, was also living there and for the first time we had a chance to become friends. I learned so much talking with him about life and watching him interact with my parents and his friends. He stood up for others, befriended those without friends, spoke with kindness to everyone and told my mom not to sweat the small stuff. He even set me up on a date with one of his teachers—the highest compliment I’ve ever received from one of my brothers. Then one awful day he was killed in a skiing accident. It seemed like the world had gone dark or that it was a cruel joke, but he really was gone. I was so sad and angry, yet I knew that somehow I had to decide what was true, then hold onto it and put my heart back together. I’m so thankful I listened to my heart and didn’t let my pride prevent me from moving back in with parents and living with him for the last sixteen months of his life. My heart was broken again, but I could still find joy in the darkness. I feel very grown up when I look back on this.
Three years later I moved to Washington, DC with a grown up job, an almost grown up apartment and grown up friends. Walking home late one night I heard a noise behind me and turned to see a man following me. He pulled a gun from his coat, pointed it at my stomach and demanded my money, which of course was in my purse along with my house keys and so many other important things. I did exactly as he asked, gave him my purse, then turned in the direction he indicated and walked away frightened. I was mugged at gun point one block from my home! Later I lay awake in my upstairs neighbor’s spare bedroom thinking how lucky I was and wondering how I was going to force myself to walk home alone the next evening. In my heart, I knew if I stayed inside then I would be giving that man more power in my life. I refused then and there to give him more power. Two nights later, I forced myself out the door and walked alone in the early evening shadows to a friend’s house and the next night alone to another friend’s house. I felt so scared, so strong and so grown up.
Making sense of the good, joyful things in life along with the sad, hurtful things make me who I am. Standing up for myself and the things I care about most, has helped me to trust my heart for the answers. To have fallen in love and been loved back, even though in the end I chose to let it go, taught me love was possible and still gives me hope. Choosing to walk alone in the dark showed me how much power I can have over my fears. So now, when I make choices about what is right for me to say, do or believe, I try to follow the voice deep in my heart, no matter how scary or painful. These are the times I’m truly living my own life, being true to myself, and that is when I feel grown up.