I clearly remember the moment I first realized it was possible for me to be wrong. I was 18 and in the middle of an argument with a friend's sister in England. I was defending our American lifestyle and feeling righteously indignant. My favorite state of being really when I was 18. Then she said something about how if we were serious about the environment we could build public transportation systems to decrease our dependance on cars. And it hit me. She might be right. I had nothing to say back. A rare occasion for me up to that point.
I tell that story not to say anything about the specifics of transportation policy or my opinions now of it. But rather to illustrate a formative moment in my life. Whenever I've felt myself digging into a position without looking at the other side, I remember that conversation. And that feeling of realizing there was another side. Someone else might have a reasoned point. And I'm grateful to her. To my friend's sister I only knew for 2 weeks more than 20 years ago. Grateful for an interaction in all likelihood she has no memory of having.
Formative experiences are like that. Something seemingly small and insignificant to one person, could change another person's whole life. Wouldn't it be interesting to map out these formative memories the way we do our family trees? In the same way we trace back to find our ancestors to gain insight into our DNA, perhaps we could make a formative tree with those people who had real impacts on our emotional maturity. Really see everyone who helped make us- us. To honor and remember their contributions the way we honor our ancestors.
Some people might appear on our formative trees as tiny twigs signifying short encounters like the conversation I remember with my friend's sister. But other people, old friends, might be represented with huge branches or even large parts of our root systems. Friends who were there being fused to our hearts while we were being formed.
One of my formative friends, David Duckworth, passed away last week. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend an evening with him and his wife a few years back in London where they lived. That was the only time I had seen him over the last 20 years. And yet when I heard he had died, I felt real sadness and a need to mourn. For a second, I felt like that might be inappropriate. Like I had no right to mourn for someone I hardly knew anymore. That I should feel for his wife and children (which of course I do) but not sadness on my own account.
Then after hearing of his death, two other old friends reached out to me through messaging about their feelings, and I've read other friends' comments on Facebook, and I realized, of course I should mourn for David. We all should. He was important to me and to so many others. If I can feel affection for an ancestor I've never met, how much more appropriate is it to feel sorrow at the loss of someone so important on my formative tree? We are intertwined. He is a part of me. And when a part of you dies, you mourn.
I'm not sure if David knew how much I admired him. How much I thought of his character. But I hope he knew I was glad to have been his friend. And if you're an old friend reading this, please know I was blessed by you too. I am certain you would appear on my formative tree. And no matter how long it has been since we've spoken, just like David, you'll always be fused to my heart. My memories of you- make up me.
(Written March 1, 2015)