Sometimes other people’s honesty can have a profound impact on the way you perceive yourself, leading to introspection that can change your life forever. It doesn’t have to be a bang-and-whistles speech – it could be just a throwaway moment in ordinary conversation.
There is that story a professor of mine shared about attending her mother’s funeral, for example. The way she told it, she was sitting at the kitchen table with her aunt who said to her, “You know, you die the way you live.”
I forget the context in which this came up, but I remember other things – the fleeting, faraway look on my professor’s face; the dip in her voice as she said to us: “And I thought to myself, what a terrible thing – to die as you live. I wondered then what people would say of me and I hoped they would say I was kind.”
I don’t think anybody else was really paying attention. At least, I remember the topic changed pretty quickly thereafter. But it’s always stuck in my head, perhaps because I’d just emerged from a rather unhappy two years of deep unkindness that I had perpetrated and suffered in equal measure. That whole mess had ended mere months before that class, marked forever in my mind by the passing of a woman known to be unkind to those who loved her best and needed her most.
That day it all came together and knit itself into a lesson people had been trying to teach me for years to no avail – that a bit more thought and flexibility could do wonders for my personality. I knew how to apologize and mean it, but that day it occurred anew to me that nine times out of ten, life gives you ample opportunity to avoid creating situations that end in meaningful apologies.
It’s been ten years since that day. I’d like to think that I’ve changed and evolved since then, to what degree I’m not certain but enough that I’m satisfied not to be the same person I used to be. Or rather, I’m satisfied that everyday I try to be a better person than the one I know myself to be.
That itself is growth, I think.