Today we’re talking about pivotal or defining moments in our lives. Singular or plural. Have you ever experienced one? If so, was it painful or exhilarating? How did it change you?
Maybe you’ve never labeled your aha moments as such—pivotal—but we all have moments where our vision has been irrevocably altered or something additional has been revealed to us. These moments are life-changing, and can affect us positively or negatively. And we’re not only talking major life events such as leaving home for college or your graduation or your wedding or the death of a loved one or your first baby or the purchase of your first house. Add in there the smaller, more private things, such as conquering an addiction or going through a divorce or making a career change or overhearing a conversation that answered a question you’d been asking.
In 1964, Nelson Mandela, along with 8 others from the African National Congress, was tried and sentenced to life in prison for treason. Mandela had led the charge against the government, protesting their use of force—their armies, police forces, and jails—against the African National Congress’s anti-apartheid movement. The government fought back.
You might say Mandela’s speech in that courtroom on April 20th, 1964, was a pivotal moment for him. He became a worldwide symbol for freedom and democracy, and despite the fact that he was imprisoned for 27 years, he emerged stronger than ever, serving as South Africa’s president from 1994-1999.
Many of us don’t get an opportunity to give a speech where we believe in something so strongly, we’re prepared to die for it. Mandela did. That day he said, “I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
I would call that a pivotal moment. Wouldn’t you?
Years ago, my therapist told me that everyone—whether or not he or she knows it—has gone through a seminal event in his or her life—one that usually occurs when he or she is a child, and one that determines major personality traits. In the years since then, when given the opportunity, I’ve asked my friends and family what theirs is. Some instantly launch into the retelling of theirs. Others have more difficulty.
I knew mine right away. I was twelve. I had just gotten my first period, and was a little perturbed with the whole concept. Then I was invited to visit my grandmother in California. Just me. It would be a special trip, where I’d get to fly on the plane alone, and spend some fun time with a person I thought was pretty darn cool.
Well, as you might have guessed, I got my second period while on my trip, complete with severe, curl-up-on-the-bed cramps and pounding headaches. But my grandmother had other plans. We were going to dinner with her sister and husband. We were going to Knott’s Berry Farm. There was no time for wallowing in pain. I begged to stay in bed, just until the pain went away, and that’s when she leaned over and said, “Elissa, plenty of women have gone through this and survived. I want you to get out of bed this minute. We’re going, whether you want to or not!”
Now, that may seem insignificant to you, but my grandmother was so irritated that I had tried to thwart her plans, that when she flew home with me (to spend her week with my family as she did each summer), she told my mother that I was a selfish young girl and that I thought only of myself. When my mother approached me with this information, sad that I could be this way, I felt betrayed, by my grandmother and by my body.
That whole thing about me being a bad person, a selfish person, became something I had to overcome. I was going to be better from now on. They’d see. I was going to take care of myself, rely on no one else to help me through. I would babysit to provide my own clothes, my own shoes. I would pay for any incidentals I would need at school. I wouldn’t need anyone else.
I was going to be perfect.
Although it’s frightening how I extrapolated all these promises to myself as a twelve-year-old, those character traits continued for years afterward. I was self-sufficient, or so I thought. I was going to show everyone, or so I thought. That kind of thinking made me successful at so many things, but it hollowed me out inside, if you know what I mean.
So, on the one hand it got me to where I am today. On the other hand, I’ve had to unlearn all those mantras I had going on in my head.
I’ve had other pivotal moments—positive ones. After I’d been accepted to physical therapy school, after college, I overheard a friend talking about her adventures teaching fifth graders, and I instantly knew that I wasn’t cut out for the repetition in physical therapy. I needed a career that changed every year, and certainly I would get this in teaching.
After reading Karen Maezen Miller’s Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, I finally realized I didn’t have to be perfect to be a mother. I could take one day at a time. So, we submitted our adoption papers, and today we have a beautiful, curious, fun-loving 5 year-old daughter.
When my agent emailed me, “What about Eve?” I began writing the novel that would be my first book.
Likewise, Bart Ehrman’s books have flung me onto an entirely different path, one I could never have anticipated. The rest is history, as they say. And I continue to have these learning moments that are changing who I am, who I want to be, and how I relate to the world.
How about you? What events in your life have made you, molded you, into who you are today?
[Post image: Sunburst by A-Hahn on stock.xchng]