And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Most Terrifying Honor

About 6 months ago, a new gal came to work with us at Job #1. I will call her Gem. She is a sweet little thing, about 19 yrs old, and a great worker (which I have found is rare in the younger employees we have had). I like her.

It seems she likes me, too, and I have found myself in the strangest position. It seems she looks up to me and respects me. She values what I say.


And frightening.

See, Gem is at a very delicate point in her growth as a person. She was raised in a very sheltered and structured home, and is now beginning to evaluate whether or not the path that her parents set her on is one that she wants to follow for the rest of her life. Her eyes are opening to all the options available to her, all the different lifestyles and beliefs that are out there. She is realising that life is not as black and white as she may have always believed.

It is awe inspiring to watch her on her journey. I don't believe I ever had that strong of an experience. My parents taught us by three rules: Judge Not; Do Unto Others; Always Do Your Best. I don't remember my parents ever indicating to me that any one's life, no matter how different from our own, was wrong. Unless, of course, someone was hurting themselves or others with their behavior. My parents talked about the value in all people and pointed out the similarities between their lives and ours rather than the differences. As a result, when I came to an age where I was out on my own I was never shocked that folks could come from very different lifestyles and still be "good people".

Gem hasn't had this. She has been taught that anyone who doesn't live by her family's standards and beliefs is bad. That anything different from what she has known is wrong. And she is finding that this isn't always the case, and is trying to figure out how that will change her own life.

Often she will stay after work to talk to me. It is humbling to know that she believes that I may have the answers to her questions. It is flattering and frightening to see the way she absorbs everything that I say. Having so much influence over someone is a huge responsibility, and so I am very cautious. I don't want to tell her who to be. I don't want to unintentionally mold her into someone that she is not.

On the other hand, I don't want to push her away. She is honestly seeking her path in life, and from what she tells me too many people have been telling her what to think and believe already. Friends telling her one thing, parents telling her another, co~workers telling her something altogether different.

So I listen, and I offer my thoughts, and I tell her that she must decide for herself where to go from here. I truly believe that those who question their lives, their places in life, their beliefs and honestly seek the answers become stronger people. Finding the answers to these questions inside yourself gives you an inner strength and confidence that can serve as a solid foundation for the rest of your life. I am proud of her for having the strength to step back from the doing in her life in order to evaluate the why of the doing. Too many folks live their whole lives as zombies, following what their neighbors or their friends do without ever once thinking about if it is the right thing to do.

Personally, I am finding the situation new and strange. I have had many discussions with different people in my life about these same issues that I discuss with Gem, but those discussions were either with folks older than myself or with my peers. For the first time I find myself in the position of "Elder". I am the one who has more experience. I am the one who has found (for the most part) my path. I am, in a sense, the teacher. It is strange to realise that I am more of a grown up than I had thought. I still have so many questions and so many things I want to learn. I often forget that I am not a child myself. I still think to myself "When I grow up...". Maybe I will still be saying that when I am an old woman in a wheelchair. And yet I feel a strange confidence when Gem comes to me with questions. She is seeking for answers that I have already found for myself, and I know enough to help her find her own answers.

I guess we are both growing up together. Strange, isn't it?


Deb said...

This is a beautiful post Barefoot. I feel sad for Gem, how her parents have tried to show her that there is only one way. There isn't. I wish you much wisdom and strength and courage as you mentor this young woman.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

When I read this I remembered my Mother's oft repeated comment that "just because you like some one it doesn't mean that you have to *be* like them Peter".

It sounds as though your parents thought the same, sad that Gem's did not guide her the same way, perhaps this is where you come into the equasion?

barefoot gardener said...

Thanks, you two. I am hoping that I do right by Gem. She is such a great gal.