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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Defining Moments

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As I opened the book which held the poetry I wrote as a teenager, pages which I had painstakingly typed out over and over on my mother's typewriter until they were devoid of misspellings, the title page I had placed in the front brought back a very distinct memory of a defining moment in my life.

My English teacher, Mr. Spade, presented us with an assignment. We were to find a classic book by an American author to read and present to the class. I groaned. I despised reading for any reason apart from my own enjoyment and was not looking forward to the project. I walked to the city library and asked for some recommendations. The first book out of the librarian's mouth was "Thoreau's Walden" so I checked it out, brought it home and set it on my dresser, never even cracking the cover to read a word until almost 2 weeks later when I was given the date for my presentation.

I remember sitting in the small alcove beneath the stairs across from our apartment, my own quiet place for reading and writing, and beginning to read Thoreau's words. Initially I was frustrated because the words did not flow in a way I was accustomed to, the language required more thinking on my part. But as I progressed through the story of this man's escape from civilization, I became fascinated. And when I read these lines, something in me changed:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I read over these words countless times, each time realizing that I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more. I wanted not only to live, but to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" as Thoreau had described.

I began to search out those around me who seemed to live life to the fullest - happy people who lived with determination and purpose - people who I wanted to emulate. I would question whether my actions were truly a reflection of myself or of just trying to fit in. I eventually learned to do and be and live in a way that I was comfortable with myself and the things that made me who I was. I learned to let go of many inhibitions which kept me in a shell and became a happy, passionate, more outgoing young woman.

Most people who know me today do not know the quiet, shy young girl that I used to be. They are often surprised when I even speak of times when I was awkward and introverted. To me, this is a measure of my success.

So, thank you Mr. Spade.

Thank you Miss Librarian.

And thank you Thoreau.

I am glad to report that I am still living.

13 comments:

lambfam said...

The second greatest thing about LIVING is inspiring others to do the same - thanks Gerb.

Kimm said...

Great story! I'm glad you're so willing to share your life! I'm inpsired by you, to be a better me! thanks Gerb!

Rebecca said...

Nice post, Gerb. Such a satisfying mantra: To Live.

Brown Thumb Mama said...

Tears are in my eyes as I read this. Nobody can believe that I was quiet, awkward, and shy either. We walked that road together (though very far apart).

Hooray for being comfortable in our own skin and being the women God meant for us to be.

Amber said...

Yay! I love Thoreau! I feel awkward and shy sometimes, I think I should work on that more. Thanks for reminding me :)

Richard & Natalie said...

Wow.
I think from one of your sentences that you pulled one particular thought out of my head that has been floating around in shambles and put it together so it finally makes sense to me.
Thank You.

Anaise said...

Hmmm, how interesting that you were quiet and shy then but are outgoing and exciting now, but I am making the switch in the opposite direction (though "exciting" may not be the right word to describe my younger self). I am living quietly at home--more and more immersed in home as time goes by--and trying each day to "live" as you and Thoreau have described. I hope that a memorial to my life will say simply "She learned to be kind." But in the meantime, I so enjoy the outgoing, exciting, fun people who make this world as bright and beautiful (and yes, kind) as you do.

Amanda said...

What an inspiring message! Thoreau is awesome. In fact, I'm writing a report on him this week for school:D

hintonrae said...

As an English teacher, it is so COOL to see how inspired you were by this assignment...how it took hold of you and shaped you, not just for a brief while, but for the measure of your life. How exciting to see the influence a teacher and a writer has the potential to have on a young mind.

Corine said...

That is so inspirational! :D Thank you!

I wish I could say, that since my youth I have always "lived." I go through times when I think I am NOT living enough; though I realize that my expectations are sometimes unrealistic, and perhaps I am living even when I don't realize it.

In reflection now, I think I am inspired most to find the "living" in my life... always.

Sometimes living means going through growing pains; living doesn't occur only while we are enjoying the fruits of the previous growth;

...living happens every time we get up and go through the pains that come as we get out of our comfort zones.

It sounds like you have done that a great deal, and greatly expanded your comfort zone as a result of it! That is SO cool! Way to live! Way to be! :D I am inspired to continue growing (even if it is painful).

Rachel said...

Thank you Gerb! From one introvert to another.....it is much funner to live and as I have gotten more comfortable in my own skin I am so grateful that I have finally learned to live because trying to be invisible was hard, painful work.

Gerb said...

Sarah- You have quickly become one of my favorite cousins in that clan as I've had the chance to glimpse into your life on your blog. It's really a pity we don't live closer!

Kimm- You make me smile. Thank you.

Bec- Yes, it is! And thanks.

BTM- Amen! I think that our letters helped me through that time even if I was unaware that you were walking the same road as I. I remember seeing you once every few years and always thinking that you were so 'hip'! I would have never guessed quiet or shy.

Amber- When people take the time to get to know you they only see a witty gal with a great sense of humor. It can be hard to break out of the shell... I know.

Natalie- Well, you definitely have me curious... but you're welcome.

Anaise- That sounds lovely to me, actually. I wish we had more of a chance to get to know each other back then. I don't know if early morning seminary was a great opportunity to mingle... but I do remember loving your hair webs!

Amanda- Awesome! I need to read Walden again now that I'm older. I wonder if it would have some new lessons to teach me.

Lori- I actually tried to contact Mr. Spade to let him know of the impact of his teaching but my letter was returned to me. I think many of us have been touched by a teacher and haven't made the time to let them know - and I think it would mean the world to them to hear about it.

Corine- Hmmmm. I don't know if I could say that I have always LIVED. For sure, I have tried, but I know I have occasionally slipped back into the comfortable ways of playing the chameleon and just trying to blend in where I didn't quite fit. I still retract back into my shell when I get around people that I do not know, too. But at least I am trying... and I generally succeed when I give it enough time (or enough mental pep talks).

Rachel- Wow, that is so true - trying to be invisible IS hard, painful work. It is much more fun to pretend I am an always-outgoing, happy person. I have found that when I work towards what I want to be it is easier to become it. (did that make any sense?)

Teachinfourth said...

Here's to living, and here's to life...may we all keep really living it, and if we haven't started, may we begin so now.

Thanks, Gerb.

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