Friday, November 5, 2010

Building Blocks

I have been thinking today about people who have significantly influenced my life over the years, trying to sort out the various facets of my personality and attitudes and determine their source. I have a changed a few names, but not all, just to keep you guessing. And no, this is not an exhaustive list. I have left gaping holes that I will fill at a later time.

My parents have obviously wielded immense influence, primarily through their examples. Three main lessons come to mind, however. Seek knowledge. Be interested in, not just tolerant of, people from all backgrounds. Maintain integrity always. Yeah, always. Even when it embarrasses your teenage children who would prefer a graceful white lie.

I have one sister, five years older than I. We stand the same height, and my children think we sound alike (particularly in our sarcastic moments). Beyond that, the similarities fade. Sylvia left home when I was 13 and thoroughly self-absorbed. I have recognized her influence more as an adult. Her overall calm and her example as a mother to an amazing family have inspired me. I have never managed to match the calm, but I have aspirations...

College was a pivotal time for me, as it should be, and Chris was a huge part of my university life. He is one of those larger than life characters who draw a following, and it took a few years for me to realize, somewhat to my embarrassment, that he played a much greater role in my life than I did in his. Be that as it may, our friendship in a sense embodied those college years for me. I learned to challenge boundaries, not just societal boundaries, but also those within myself. I also learned that life and love are messy, and that is just fine. Creativity is a messy process.

Not all of my life lessons came from comfortable sources. While my friendship with Jane died some time ago, I remain indebted to her for invaluable lessons about what friendship is...and what it is not, or at least what it cannot be for me. I learned to respect my limits, and I learned not to dive headfirst into someone else's life and problems. Years ago, I sat on my bed one evening and wailed, "But I wanted it to be a happy day!" I have never relinquished that childhood wish. I still long for a happy day not only for me but for those around me. I cannot fix everyone's problems. The bare fact of the matter remains that often the healthiest solution for all involved is to simply stand back and let people climb their own mountains. Sometimes we walk alongside and cheer them on. Sometimes we toss them a canteen. And sometimes we turn our backs and claw the way up our own trail.

I grew up with Mother, and I gained Mom with my first marriage. Although she calls herself the "outlaw" now, I will always consider Kathryn family. I often echo her counsel that "things done when thought of need no further attention." My children listen about as well as her son did, but at least I remind myself of the counsel on a regular basis. Also from Kathryn, I have learned that tears can be a gift. I have watched and felt the marvelous effect of her tears in softening hearts that need to feel and releasing tears from dry eyes that need to weep.

We named Kristina after two of her grandmothers, both because we loved the names and in order to remind her of her rich heritage. I watch from across the room as she plays hide-and-go-seek over the phone with her Grandma Ruth. How they play over the distance of 1000 miles, I will never understand, but they share a special bond. I admire Ruth's unconditional love for her family and her dedication to each of us.
I was raised by liberal parents who set an example of sticking firmly to standards while accepting and celebrating the diversity around them. While I once prided myself on internalizing that principle, I have come to realize that my husband far outstrips me in his genuine interest in other people and his willingness and ability to accept them regardless of their degree of social acceptability. Brad frequently reminds me of the fact that God looks on the heart, that if we have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of heaven one day, we may find ourselves rather surprised at its inhabitants.

I met my friend Susan years ago when we both worked in Cache Valley, part of the bosom of the Mormon church. While not particularly religious herself, Susan exhibits charity and integrity more than almost anyone I know, reminding me that those attributes are not restricted to folks who are overtly religious. We all could use that reminder now and again, particularly when we make bold assumptions about a political candidate or a neighbor based on where they spend their Sunday mornings or what dogma they profess to follow.

Melissa and Heather brought exercise into my life, starting with daily walks while we passed Cheerios to our boys in their baby joggers and sustained each other through the ups and downs of life and motherhood. From those early morning walks, they pushed me to yoga and weightlifting, plyometrics, and beyond. I owe these women not only for their remarkable friendship but for a habit of exercise that has become essential to my well-being.

To the village who continues to raise this adult, I send a humble "thank you."


  1. I dearly dearly need a Melissa in my life. i have a lot of nice friends in the area, but none of them has become a good fitness match. So I start out with good intentions, then fizzle. Every time. Sometimes the fizzle is due to boredom or lack of motivation, but far too often it's an injury...usually minor (ITB, tendinitis, etc.) that takes the drive out of me. so i wait, recoup, and retry.

    i just wish i could transform, the way you described.

    also, your thoughts in this and other posts about your friend that died have resonated with me. i've had a few people who were dear to me, and whom i was dear to, or maybe i just presumed that based on all our chats and times together, who just stopped...with no explanation. generally there was a phone call, unremarkable at the time, that ended up being the last. only i didn't realize, for over a year in all cases (during which time i tried repeatedly to connect to no avail), that that call had been "goodbye".

    but maybe it wasn't. maybe they just didn't realize at the time they were tired of me or my life, and it wasn't a conscious thing to move on, but it just happened. or maybe it was a tender mercy that they dropped me, because i needed to let go of them for various reasons. perhaps their influence in my life wasn't what i needed. maybe i am "dead wood" that needed trimming from their busy lives.

    i played the maybe game hundreds of times, always wishing that they'd have the kindness to just explain to me what it is that happens behind the scenes in these cases. cause i hate not knowing. but i've had to just let it go and accept that it's over, and that it probably wasn't even about me. just time and distance and life moving on.

    which is fine. i have enough and to spare in the amazing people in my lifedepartment. you're in that category. ♥

  2. uh, that should have read "friendship that died"...big difference!

  3. Everybody needs a Melissa in their life! And a Blue. :) Friendships can be messy and complicated things, particularly in the ending phase. Sometimes fading away is, indeed, a tender mercy. It isn't fun, though, when something that was important to you either fizzles or blows up spectacularly.

  4. I firmly believe every girl needs a Juliana in her life. Some one to enrich her knowledge, provide culture and perspective. I don't think I will ever find another Juliana. I guess I'll just keep the one I've got!