The words that change us

Friday, May 31, 2013

There are moments in my life that I can distinctly call out as a time when my life was altered in some way; took course on a branch route that it could never return from.  Visiting Honduras when I was sixteen, when Brandon caught my floating kiss in high school and my heart never looked back, choosing to go to Susquehanna for college, studying abroad in Costa Rica, joining Teach for America, becoming a mother. These are the forks in my life road that led me to today.

And all along the way there have been smaller moments that have slipped into my heart and brain and have never left.  They were not life-altering per say, but they have forever had an impact on the way I think and how I make choices.  They have stopped me in my tracks in that moment and have come sneaking back into my mind on an almost daily occurrence to whisper - this is what you believe; this helps define who you are; or who you hope to become.

These are a few of the words that have changed me -

When I was in my teens, we were visiting my Uncle's cottage and my baby sister and I were disagreeing over which movie we were going to watch.  My Uncle said to me, "Let her choose, Tabitha.  You were chosen to be the oldest sister so as to make life easier for the younger ones."  I have never forgotten that and the truth that I believe lies behind it.  I got to go through life first so that my sisters could watch and learn from my mistakes and so that I could ease their time through theirs.  It is a great responsibility to be the oldest sibling, but one that I cherish.

While I was in college, I randomly picked up a magazine and started reading an article about a woman who had battled cancer and won.  I wish I could remember her name, but I only remember what she wrote.  While retching in the middle of the night after chemo and she was feeling so sorry for herself but then suddenly thought, 'this sucks - but there is still someone worse off than me.  Someone who has a worse prognosis, someone who doesn't have a chance. There is always something to be grateful for.'  I have never been in an situation as grave as this woman's but to this day when I am feeling sorry for myself because of some inconsequential hardship, I think of her words.  There is always something to be grateful for no matter how difficult it may be in this moment. Always.

I read What is the What  by Dave Eggers about the Lost Boys of Sudan.  The book was an amazing read and a serious reminder of how much the human spirit can endure, especially the resilience of children.  There is a part in the book when the lost boys come to the US and get their own apartment and are astonished that turning on a faucet brings them clean water.  That it could be that easy to have access to fresh, clean water.  I think of this every single day.  That I can turn on faucets in my house to get clean water and all over the world there are people who cannot.  For all the things that we use clean drinking water for (showering, kid exploration, the slip&slide, cleaning, watering the garden...) I remind myself of the kids and families all over who don't even have it to drink.

When we traveled to Thailand, we took a cooking class with a woman named Poo from the Klong Toey Slum in Bangkok.  During the class, she was telling us how she had more success now in her cooking class because she started cleaning up the chicken; removing the skin and hair as was suggested by her friend and business mentor, Anji Barker - an Australian expat.  When I told her, 'ew, you were leaving the hair on it?' she said, 'The difference is that you eat for taste; in Thailand, we eat for full.'  At every meal, I now remind myself how lucky we are to be able to eat for taste instead of full.

And when everyday when I look in the mirror, I think of Dr. Maya Angelou's experience when she told the story that the women in Africa wept for her because she didn't have stretch marks and they thought she was childless.  They told her that in their society, stretch marks were a badge of honor.  That carrying the marks of motherhood is important because even if the baby passed away or you get kidnapped and taken to another village and can't speak - the marks will still tell your story and she would get the proper rites at burial.

Similarly, I think of Tyler Knott Gregson's poem when I see laugh lines on anyone's face and now the wrinkles and lines that are showing on my own face -

I will measure 
my success in this 
and my worth 
as a man
a friend
a lover
and most simply 
as a
human being
by counting 
the laugh lines
on your
when old age
-Tyler Knott Gregson
Typewriter series #424

When I feel frustration over not being able to do things that make me feel calm and fulfilled (like writing, meditating, or yoga) without the distractions that come from little hands and voices I think of this quotation from Buddhism for Mothers: 'The carry-over of the practice is more important than the formal practice itself.  The time you use the petrol is not at the petrol pump.'  

I am continually growing and changing, even now as an adult - maybe even more so now that I am confident with who I am and who I hope to be.  My ears are always ready to hear or read the next words that will help define my character.  That will help me make sense of this life in the terms that I hope to live it.

What are some the words that have changed you?


  1. Hello, my beautifully articulate sister. Here I am weeping at your words (always) but excited at the chance to share some that I just stumbled on that feel profound. I am currently reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and more pages are dog-eared than not, because he is genius.
    The narrator of the book is Death. He says:
    A Small But Noteworthy Note
    I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.

  2. Beautifully said. Thank you!

  3. Beautiful post :) Thank YOu

  4. Ah, I feel grateful to have met you through the Spanish program at Susquehanna just to be able to read your words today. You truly have a gift and it is always a pleasure to read your posts.

  5. Words of Wisdom:
    Hold your baby as much as you can in the first four months.
    Use money to make memories, not buy things.
    And my favorite, which my grandpa always says, "There are worse things in this life than dying."