“When I received Erin’s e-mail outlining what she was looking for in a “Defining Moments” post – a few possibilities jumped to mind. First, I thought I would write about the day I met my husband – but that’s not really a good story. (Our initial encounter involved a chin up and a “Hey, ‘Sup?” and that’s about it …) Then I thought maybe it would be better to write about the day I had my son – how with that first hello, my life was changed forever.
Those were life-altering events that certainly redefined who I am – but the moment I chose to write about is something much smaller. I chose to write about a simple conversation I had with a wise friend that changed the way I see myself and the people around me …
I remember it like it was yesterday, though it was a conversation that actually took place more than six years ago. After spending the morning walking on slush-covered sidewalks giving him a Grand Tour of the city he had moved to the week before, my toes were numb, my nose was red and dripping, and I could barely feel my fingers. When he suggested we stop for coffee I wanted to hug him! I was a tough girl who didn’t want admit she hadn’t dressed for the weather.
He ordered a cafe mocha, I ordered a hot chocolate. We sat at a table in the corner, our gloved hands wrapped around our cups.
I remember the awkward silence. We had only met four days before. He was the new intern pastor at our church; I was showing him around as a favour to one of the associate pastors. I remember thinking it was funny, how we had so much to say to each other when we were walking around the city for three hours, but absolutely nothing once we were sitting across from each other.
I remember the nervous chuckle … and then every student’s favourite question:
“So … what do you want to be when you grow up?”
I was in the final months of my undergraduate program as an Economics major/Business minor – so at that point, I thought I had it all figured out.
Or at least I hoped I did.
My answer was quick. Confident. Well-rehearsed.
“I want to work with the governments of poor countries and help them get out of debt.”
I remember the way he studied me over his coffee cup, his brown eyes not leaving mine.
The lowering of the cup.
That Infuriating Smile — that I now know means I’ve played right into his hand. It means he’s about to say something that will make me Think. (He has this annoying habit of asking a question – a simple question – that – for me, at least – leads to weeks of introspection. A simple conversation – a simple question – but somehow I always end up rattled.)
“I didn’t ask you what you wanted to do when you grow up – I asked you what you wanted to be.”
I remember raising my eyebrows. “I want to be an economist, then.”
“Really? Do you really want to be an economist?”
By that point I was starting to realize he was getting at something else – something I wasn’t sure I could answer – so with a shrug, I turned the question on him.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget his answer.
It was quick. Confident. Not at all rehearsed …
“I want to be someone who loves,” he said.
Someone who loves.
He went on to elaborate: “I want to be someone who loves others. Who puts people first. People are more important than _______ – whatever. Fill in the blank.”
The conversation continued and eventually we moved on to other topics, but to be completely honest – after that introduction, I thought he was a little bit strange. He was so earnest, it was unsettling. I made a note to myself to keep my distance – but as the weeks passed, I found myself returning to that conversation. Mulling over the distinction between what we DO and what we ARE. WHO we are. WHOSE we are … And what responsibility that holds.
And I found the words “People are more important than _________” echoing in my head at the most inconvenient times. I’d be on my way to the university to write an exam and I’d see a girl who had dropped her notebook chasing loose papers all over the courtyard. I’d hesitate for a second – and then I’d hear that phrase, and I’d turn away from the door and join in the paper chase. Or I’d be driving home for the weekend and see someone with a flat tire on the side of the road – and I’d touch the brake ever so slightly, thinking “Should I? Someone else will stop …” – only to hear those words – and put my blinker on. Or I’d be finished shoveling the driveway in -30 (worse with windchill!) and be ready to go inside to have a hot shower and some hot chocolate to warm up – when I’d see my neighbour come outside with his shovel. “I already put my time in – I’m freezing, he’ll be fine!” I’d tell myself – but I’d hear “People are more important than ________” over and over and over in my head, so I’d walk the few steps to the neighbour’s driveway and start digging.
And those are just a few examples – I’ve lost track of all the times it’s happened over the past six years.
Today I am many things: a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an equestrian, a medical secretary (a far, far cry from an economist, eh?) – and someone who loves.
Thanks to that one simple conversation.
I think that counts as a defining moment, don’t you?”