Yes, that’s me. What a cutie. I’m guessing it was taken almost 50 years ago. Now why would I trot out an ancient photograph of myself? Because a couple of things have driven my introspection over the past 24 hours. (An as you know, when I am feeling self-reflective, you’ll know it.) Today’s topic: How that kid became this man.
First, last night my friend Lori dragged us into a Facebook vortex by posting a personality type test. You know the kind – they ask a zillion questions, many impossible to answer, then lump everyone into a pre-defined personality type. For the record, I turned out to be an “ESTP,” which means I am of the same personality type as Stephen R. Covey, FDR, Taylor Swift, and the Marquis de Sade. Yeah, I don’t know what to make of it, either.
I am a bit of a cynic. Until I see a personality test or a horoscope that offers insight like “You are mean to children and old people,” I will brush them off.
The test DID get me thinking about why I am like I am. What influences, behaviors, genetics and experiences melded and molded me into who I am today? Add to it out knowledge of the eternal nature of our spirits and their associated personalities, it gets even harder to decipher. Yet here I am – Me – and I am the only one.
Here is the synopsis as found on Fandango:
“A ten-year-old boy with a facial deformity attends school for the first time when he begins the fifth grade. With the support of his mother and father, he learns how to make friends and adjust to his new environment. Meanwhile, those around him learn not to judge a book by its cover.” (link)
What the synopsis doesn’t mention is that it is also a beautifully addressed broadside at bullying and unkindness. I know everyone has experienced those things to one degree or another. Yet it was childhood memories that caused me to watch this movie through teary eyes, and occasional ugly sobs. It tore me up.
I was not bullied as a young kid, but a bit in high school. For the most part, I had a pretty great childhood. What tore at my heart, and pried open memories from long ago was that I identified with “Via,” the main character’s sister, and how her life fit in. Watching it play out onscreen was hard, yet cathartic. I wrote a little bit about that aspect of my childhood previously, so please indulge me…
I grew up with two brothers – one older, one younger. My older brother struggled with severe mental and physical handicaps. He had a difficult childhood as he tried to make his way through “Special Ed” schools, surgeries, medications, and social stigma. It was hard for him. Nevertheless he was a happy soul, full of kindness, energy and love. Most of the time.
I remember one afternoon, I was out riding my bike with my friends after school, because that’s what eight-year-olds did back then. We heard a siren, and watched to see where it was coming from, so we could chase the fire engine – again, because that’s what eight-year-olds did back then. We not only saw a fire truck, but an ambulance and a police car! We peddled furiously to get to where they were going.
As we drew closer, I realized that there was a police car already parked in my driveway. I stopped. My friends circled back and encouraged me to keep up. By this time, the fire engine, and the ambulance had arrived, and were parked in front of my house, along with a gathering crowd.
I turned my StingRay around, and peddled off. I spent the next few hours avoiding my house. I knew what had happened: My brother had had another one of his “episodes” and this one must have been a doozy. The specifics didn’t matter – I just wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Eventually, I went home. Not because I wanted to, but it was starting to get dark, and I was terrified about how angry my parents were going to be for pulling a vanishing act. But I needed to go home, and find out what had happened.
I don’t remember the details. The house was quiet. My parents were in their room. I think I talked to my big sister, ate something, and went to bed. There was no anger. To this day, I’m not sure that anyone even noticed that I had even been gone.
That was just one of the things that irritated me about growing up with a handicapped brother. Sure, I loved him, and have many happy memories of him from my childhood, but there are other, less noble memories. There were times that I resented him, because his needs were always more urgent. I was embarrassed by him, and felt I was constantly having to explain about him, or apologize for him, to other people. We had little in common, but thankfully, I had a sister who filled the older sibling role perfectly. I’m not proud of those feelings, and I wasn’t back then – but that was my reality.
Sadly, on some days – like that day – I was afraid of him. Once in a while, when pressures, or medications or emotions were out of whack, violence could appear. It was rare, but it was scary. And dangerous. And that is all you need to know.
For me, one of the more difficult parts of growing up has been learning how to accept my brother. It is a process that was accelerated when he passed away some years ago, but I’m not finished yet. I still deal with regret and remorse that I did not love him more, try to understand him more, and defend him more. Now, with grownup eyes, I look back at his life and I am awed at what he was able to accomplish, given the specific challenges he faced. My life is so easy, so complete, so fulfilling. I get to experience the joy of marriage and children, and so many other things he never could.
I have come to the conclusion that my brother has secured a very exalted place in the heavens above, and I anticipate that when I get there, I will probably need to make an appointment just to see him.
So “Wonder” did hit some chords with me. Now here I sit with my “ESTP” personality wondering how I got to be who I am, and what things helped that to happen. Admittedly, it is usually an exercise in focusing on the negative traits I might wrestle with. Why? Because of a movie and an internet test. This could go south, except…
Self-reflection can be a good thing, if it leads to change. Maybe there is something in my personality test that reinforces a nagging feeling in my heart that I just might need to make some adjustments. Perhaps some feelings I had from my childhood have impacted me in a way that might require some adjusting. I say this fully aware that my upbringing was pretty darn good. I had stable, loving parents, everything a kid could ask for, and Gilligan. So many have not had such good fortune.
I have a friend who is knee-deep in writing a memoir that tells the story of a much tougher life. Writing it down requires wrestling some ghosts and demons that have long been dormant. It has been a difficult but worthwhile process.
Back in the 80’s there was an obscure song by the band “James.” I mostly remember it because of one lyric.
“Stop, stop talking about who’s to blame, when all that counts is how to change.”
That simple phrase often comes to mind as I see examples in a society that is focused on victimhood, and its associated justifications. Do I cling to past slights or experiences as justification to accept things about myself that could be improved upon? Has the thought “That’s just the way I am,” ever crossed my mind?
Do I have character traits that stem from my life experiences or upbringing that could use some remodeling? Probably.
Is that kind of change even possible? Is it possible to let go of guilt that has been hoarded for decades? Is it possible to let go of feelings or grudges held and nurtured for a lifetime? Yes, but it can be difficult. But that is the nature of our challenge here in this life: To change. Thankfully we have the Gospel and the Savior.
“The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through the Savior’s Atonement.” (Elder David A. Bednar)
Just this past April, Elder Jeffrey Holland said, “Come as you are,” a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, “Don’t plan to stay as you are.” We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be.” (link)
The very purpose of Gospel of Jesus Christ is to help us change, and become better versions of ourselves.
I fear that sometimes we reduce the effect of the Atonement to that of a “spiritual car wash.” We show up every Sunday (as we should) with repentant hearts, take the sacrament and leave, happy to be cleansed. That is true and worthy, but it minimizes the tremendous additional impact that is available. Rather than just a spiritual car wash, the Atonement can function as a spiritual mechanic and body shop – perpetually rebuilding, adjusting and fine-tuning.
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 361.)
Am I insecure at times? You betcha. As I should be. One of the dumbest feel-good expressions I hear nowadays is “You are perfect just the way you are.”
So much nonsense! If I were perfect the way I am, I wouldn’t need to depend on the Savior and His Atonement. He – along with the Holy Ghost to help with the heavy lifting – can help me make the changes I need to make. Because that is why I am here.
I am grateful that a worthy movie, conversation or prompting can stir my heart to remembrance of the blessings and challenges in my life, and also the reminder that I am yet a work in progress – and will continue to be until I draw my last breath.