Defining moments… those unexpected moments that come from nowhere and hit you like a brick; that alter your life or your perspective and change your course – or steady it; the ones you can pass right through without realizing their significance until much later; the moments that give you parts of yourself and show you who you are and what you’re made of.
Though I’ve certainly experienced many life-changing events and made many life-altering decisions, I’ve only had a few defining moments. Each lasted mere seconds… and each changed me profoundly.
I wrote about the first one the other day (you can read about it here). Though I can look back on it and laugh, I wasn’t laughing then. My 7-year-old self was terrified. But the moment I looked the bully in the eye and told him I was willing to take whatever he had to dish out, I realized I was braver than I’d ever believed. That moment gave me power.
The second happened when I was 15. I’d fallen head over heels for the most wonderful boy... a boy who made me feel special and beautiful (things in short supply for a gawky teenager). He was funny and smart and utterly charming… he was also black. And my parents – my ultra-conservative parents – would not have approved of me dating anyone who was not white. Certain the repercussions would be severe, I was afraid to disobey them, and though I could have lied to him (and I debated doing so), I decided I owed this beautiful boy the truth. So on a hot summer day, sitting in the shade of a massive oak, I looked into his eyes and explained that although I cared for him deeply, I couldn’t see him because my parents wouldn’t allow it. I was afraid he would be furious. Instead, he took my hands in his, smiled at me, and said he understood. Instead of anger, I saw pain and sadness in his face. My heart ached because I knew I was hurting a wonderful, kind, loving person and because, in that moment, I knew beyond all doubt that my parents were wrong. That moment changed the course of my life forever. It changed the way I would see the world and the people who would cross my path. In it, I gave myself permission to dissent; to open myself up to people and experiences I’d never encounter in the small world in which I’d grown up. That moment gave me freedom.
The third occurred the day I found out I was pregnant. Learning I was to be a mother, however, wasn’t the defining moment (although it certainly did change the course of my life!). I called to tell my parents, hoping such good news would make my dad, who was very ill, feel just a little better. After I told him, I asked lightheartedly, “So, you think you can hang on ‘til your grandchild gets here?” He answered, “I’ll try.” I’ll try. My dad was an “I’ll do” sort of person, not an "I'll try". It was in that moment I knew I was going to lose him… that he was really dying. I hadn’t been able to face that possibility – that reality. Hearing those words forced me to look at death – and life – in a way I’d never seen it. That moment gave me profound and lasting sorrow.
The fourth happened just over three weeks later – the day of my dad’s funeral. I was supposed to deliver the eulogy but I really didn’t think I’d be able to do it, as I was a complete mess. But as I stood by myself in a small room off the chapel, I felt a strong sense of peace settle in and around me. I felt my dad. Never a religious person, I’d struggled to find some sort of faith my whole life. I’d bounced from atheism to agnosticism and back and back again. But in that moment, for the first time ever, I believed with all my heart that there is something beyond this life; that our spirits don’t just die. And finally, I needed nothing more – I was satisfied. That moment gave me peace.
The last moment happened shortly after my marriage ended. Ryan had just started kindergarten and she was struggling with an intense new schedule and more structure than she’d ever been used to, so, not wanting to disrupt her life any more that was necessary, my ex and I decided not to tell her we were splitting up right away. He was working away from home during the week, so it was relatively easy and when he came home on the weekends, he didn’t sleep with me ‘because he snored’, an excuse Ryan accepted readily. The weekends were incredibly difficult for me, though. Trying to provide some semblance of normalcy for my little girl was eating me alive. Luckily I’d just gotten Sundance and, to avoid being in the same house with my ex, I’d take him out for hours. During one of our long walks, I noticed a little girl, about 7 or 8-years-old, standing in her driveway with her mother, a small suitcase at her feet. They were obviously waiting for someone and when I saw a man pull up, I assumed it was her father. The little girl got into the car but her mother never went near it. She just waved at her daughter from the driveway as they pulled away. No greetings, no forced pleasantries, no acknowledgments of any sort were exchanged between the adults. In that moment, my heart broke for a little girl I didn’t even know – and for my own little girl as well. The two people she loved most in the world couldn’t be civil enough to one another to say ‘good morning.’ All I could think about was how devastating it must be to feel pulled apart, divided, by the two people who are supposed to make you feel whole. I walked back to my house and told my ex that I didn’t care what we had to do, we would make sure Ryan would never feel the way that little girl must have felt. I had no idea just how hard keeping that commitment would be, but I’ve never regretted it. That moment gave me strength.
Those are my defining moments to date. I figure I'm probably due for another, so I'm hoping my next defining moment will give me thinner thighs… or money to pay all my bills… or a date I want to go out with more than once... or a housekeeper… or…