Life-Changing Experiences

Im very much in agreement with the reservations Joe Harris has expressed about the personal essay the worry that grading, in some ways, becomes an evaluation of the self that the student represents on the page but after reading the MetaFilter thread, one of my responses to the Personal Essay assignment has become a recognition of and revulsion at my own voyeurism. —Mike VitiaLife-Changing Experiences (Vitia.org)

Vitia is reflecting on a runaway Metafilter thread, in which members are submitting life-changing experiences. I didn’t get all the way through the list (possibly because I followed the link via Vitia’s blog entry, and thus I was conscious of my own voyeurism, but also because I’ve got stacks of papers to return). But this one has haunted me since I read it yesterday… so I’ve got to blog it to clear my head.

In the last couple years of elementary school, and junior high school, other kids knew that I was very ticklish, and that they could get a rise out of me by tickling me, poking me, or even making sudden threatening moves towards my midsection. This stopped when I got to high school, but by then, I was nervous about letting anyone touch me, or even get near me.

Just before my 15th birthday, my mother had a large number of leftover peppermint candies. She gave me a big bag of them to share with fellow members of the school choir on the way to a concert.

There was one particular girl in the choir, Dovie, a senior, who had always been kind to me (and to everyone in general). When I gave her a mint, she looked at me as if it were the nicest thing anyone had done for her in a long time. And she gave me a hug.

It took me a second to realize what was going on, and hug back.

Because of how I had been treated before, I had forgotten that letting someone touch you can be a good thing. Over the course of that year, I talked to Dovie some more, and occasionally, I hugged her. But even though I knew that she was a very nice person who enjoyed hugging her friends, I kept a certain distance from her, because I was afraid. I didn’t want to take any chances; I didn’t want to risk imposing on her or wasting her time.

At the end of the last day of school, I realized that I would probably never see her again, and that I had squandered an opportunity to get to know a really nice person.

After crying a bit, I resolved that I wouldn’t let that happen again. I now knew that there were some very nice people out there, and if I met one, I wanted to get to know her. I knew that being touched could be a positive thing, and decided that I would hug any friend of mine who wanted a hug.

I haven’t fully overcome my shyness, and I’m still a bit nervous about letting others near me, but I’m a lot better than I was back then, and knowing her was what motivated me to change. To this day, when I meet a woman who is sweet and affectionate, I say to myself, “She reminds me of Dovie.” —CrunchyFrog

When I think back on high school, I can conjure up vivid memories of rivalries and alliances and accomplishments and setbacks. But I have to work to get those memories out of deep storage. The moments from my past that leap out at me unbidden are perfectly ordinary moments of kindness (and sometimes cruelty). That makes me wonder how many of my daily actions will be remembered years from now by somebody to whom they became somehow important.