Monday, November 5, 2012


There are moments throughout each life that become the defining ones.  We can all flip through the gilded pages of our individual histories and point to them much like Napoleon could point to Waterloo or St. Paul to Damascus and say, 
“There.  Right there.  I was a different person after that”. 
 Poor Burton was never the same from the fated hour he walked onto the set of Cleopatra and beheld Taylor, and at a seemingly innocuous autumn fete in a Liverpool churchyard, two teenage boys named Lennon and McCartney met for the first time and the whole of the world was changed. 
  Like the aforementioned examples, sometimes those moments radiate a historical importance that is vivid even to others.  The scope of their influence is so all-encompassing as to be impossible to deny.  But though other moments are smaller, insignificant to a wider audience, these are so often the ones that manage to hone our individual characters in the most decisive ways.  They make us who we are.  One of those moments happened to me when I was about seven years old and through it I learned that it’s possible to be right even when those with more volume and authority tell me I’m wrong.  I learned to question.  I learned to learn.  I learned to trust myself.

It had been a day much like any other of my childhood; one spent playing outside.  One of my little neighbours had shown up at some point with her four year old sister.  During the course of the afternoon, in the midst of exploring our gardens and yards, I chanced to explain to the littlest one how caterpillars turn into butterflies.  I cannot remember her reaction, but I suppose she was suitably impressed.  That particular bit of nature’s quirkiness has always fascinated me.  Later that evening came a loud rap on our front door.  My mother opened it to find a red-faced woman standing on our porch with her hands on her hips, her newly enlightened four year old standing behind her with her little facial features arranged in an expression reflective of her newest emotion, Scorn.  
The lady proceeded to proclaim her displeasure at my “tellin’ tales” to her little girl saying, 
“She’s gonna go to school now and repeat this stuff and everbody’s gonna think she’s nuts.
Tell your girl to stop tellin’ stories.”

Indignant, I wanted my mother to come to the defense of my credibility with a vengeance but, no doubt to her credit, she simply stood there and took it, realizing, even as I did myself, that intelligent argument was destined to be a futile exercise.  Though a lifetime ago, I can remember everything about that five minutes - from the way a setting sunbeam caught dust motes floating in the air to the cotton fabric of my mother’s shirtwaist dress.  I remember being stunned, as much by the lady’s ignorance as by the arrogance that accompanied it.   I have no doubt that this one moment churned and bubbled in the back of my mind, stirring up a concoction that has flowed through my veins ever since.  I still deplore that fatal mixture of ignorance and arrogance.

I was reminded of that long ago day this past week, en route to a beach weekend with friends. Driving through a tiny Alabama town around lunchtime, hungry, but reluctant to partake of the available offerings of fast food and donuts, I decided to stop into the local supermarket, The Piggly Wiggly, and pick up some yogurt and fruit.  Laying a carton of Greek yogurt and one perfectly ripe banana in front of the check out lady, I raised my eyes to meet an incredulous stare.
“You gonna make somethin’ with this?”, she asked.
A bit confused, I said, “Um, no.  This is just my lunch.”
“THIS is your lunch?”  She practically sneered.  
“Well, yes”, I meekly replied.
She looked at me as if she considered me utterly and completely ridiculous, then asked, 
“You ain’t gonna eat no real food?”.

Now I have to confess, it’s not often I find myself at a complete loss for words.  In fact, I’m usually the one blurting out something flip when the occasion definitely demands that I don’t.  In hindsight, I rather wish I had suggested that my seemingly lame choices for lunch constituted a much more nutritious meal than a basket of chicken nuggets, but at that moment, standing in the full heat of that girl’s supercilious stare, I had nothing.  I limped back to my car in stunned silence.  And when I reached my little green Fiat, I stared forlornly down to the spot on its back bumper where my two little Obama magnets, there when I went in, were now missing.
I still had nothing. 
 I drove for miles and miles with nothing but a dial tone in my head.
 But I have thought of butterflies all week. 
I normally remove any comments that are ugly and upsetting for the simple reason that I do not wish to subject my readership to such acrimony. That is not what this blog is about. Upon reading through these, mostly anonymously written, examples this morning, however, I decided to leave them up.  They seemed a fitting coda to this particular post, which was never intended to be even remotely political.