I am comfortable stating that I’ve had several epiphanies in my life – the problem I have is that I don’t always recognize them until years later. Nope. No “I coulda had a V8” moment for me. No head slapping event that brings sudden clarity. I chew on it for a while before I realize what happened.
Case in point: when I was in elementary school, I ran afoul of a clique. I didn’t mean to – it just happened. I was a shy, moderately smart, nerdy girl (before “nerd” was even a term) who got good grades and regular recognition from my teachers, was a head taller than most of the kids in my class, and was clumsy on the playground. Any one of those things might have attracted the bullies of this particular clique, I suppose. I really don’t understand the mentality of herds, so I’m not certain what is was about me that invited taunts and pranks – but apparently I had the secret sauce that was nectar to nasty children. For about two years.
One afternoon (as my sixth-grade class was standing outside, waiting to re-enter our building after a fire drill), one of the boldest members of the clique approached me and said “Nobody at our table likes you.”
Such behavior was nothing new – and I was hurt by the statement just as I had been before. However, this time I pulled my shoulders back and looked down at my nemesis and said “That’s okay. I don’t like any of you either.”
The girl had nothing to say and returned to her place in line. We went back to our classroom and our lives. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized that had been the last time the girls had picked on me, called me names, or destroyed any of my property. Their taunts and threats had vanished. I had stood up to them – and they had backed down. It was over. Done.
Then there was the time I was having a political discussion with my father. I was nineteen.
I had, earlier that day, quit a job after months of harassment from a co-worker. When my complaint about the latest incident had elicited little more than a shrug from my manager and the Human Relations department (the harasser was a male engineer while I was mere office help), I resigned on the spot.
The evening following my resignation, my boyfriend and I were having dinner at my parents’ house. After the meal, we began to discuss politics (dangerous, I know).
Now, when I’m passionate about a subject, I am wont to show it. When my heart is in an argument, I use my hands to emphasize a point or clip my words in a strong and emphatic manner. We were discussing Viet Nam. This was at the height of the Viet Nam conflict. I was passionate.
When I announced, to my World-War-II-veteran father, that I would have been in Canada already were I male, my father turned to me and said: “Calm down. No wonder you can’t keep a job.”
I was furious. I stood and marched out of the house, slamming the door behind me. I walked the neighborhood until I had calmed sufficiently to return.
Once back inside, I approached my father and said in a calm and controlled voice: “I don’t mind that you disagree with me. But bringing an unrelated and personal attack into an intellectual conversation is unacceptable. You are never to do that to me again.”
He said “okay.” And he never did. From then on, my father and I had many intellectual albeit-sometimes-heated conversations – but we stuck to the point and nothing got personal.
It was not until years later that I recognized that night as the beginning of my adult-to-adult relationship with my dad that was to last until his untimely death.
I try to keep my eyes open for those defining moments – but sometimes they’re too subtle for my pea-brain to recognize. Still, I welcome them. Years later.