This is a day for pondering. What defines a human? The dictionary gives us no clues, and we are left with our own presumptions. Who is a person? What are we made of? Some would say we are made of 75% water. It cannot be purely physical. Is it the mask we wear in public that defines us; or is our foundation built around the person we become behind the scenes? Are we solely at the mercy of our parents’ example? Do we choose water over blood, or are we so strongly bonded to family that we are connected like roots to the people we were born to live, love, and tolerate?
Are we defined by our minds, our bodies, our spirits? Our actions and our reputations? Do we read nonfiction in order to learn, or are we entertaining ourselves in a form of denial called “fiction.” Do we learn what others force us to know, or do we learn because we are curious? Is it human nature to be curious? There are people who want to drown the world out in order to close the blinds on reality. No matter how dark our curtains can be, there are slivers of light reaching through to gather us and bring us to the sun, guiding us toward truth. What are we hiding from? Are we sexist? Are we racist? Are we judged by the color of our hair or the shade of our skin? I believe that life is better when you face it and stop burying yourself in the ideas of past and future. Some of us lead long healthy lives, while others strive to succeed and fail. All we have is now. This moment is real. This moment will pass. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are not invincible, as we hold fast to this idea. We will not live forever. We only have now.
What defines a human? Love? Acts? Flaws? In truth, I do not know. I speculate that the answer is simple, though some people try too hard to understand. I believe that humans have the capacity to love and to forgive. We can learn to break away from hate. We can become whole by helping those less fortunate. Humans have the chance to do what is right, as well as what is wrong. That is our free will. Our words and actions speak volumes about us. We do not all follow the path of light. I believe this makes us human, and it is never too late to change, grow, and prosper.
My dad used to tell me to “Run like the wind!” He shouted that phrase during cross country races and during soccer games. He has always believed in me. So, I ran like the wind. Everywhere I went. Driving? Walking? No. Shoes or bare feet? Not even questionable. I hate wearing shoes. When I was younger, I climbed trees and ran through the woods pretending to be Pocahontas. A wild child, with a strong spirit and an active imagination.
Losing my capability to run was tragic, but it opened up doors I didn’t know existed. My creative mind took control. I acquired a few trophies for various events throughout my life. I kept only two. The first and last. While I am proud of landing my first-place trophy in a road race (my last race), I hold my very first trophy closer to my heart. When I was in the first grade, I won the first-place Young Georgia Authors Award. This trophy serves as a reminder of my beginning as a writer and illustrator. It expresses that every voice, especially the little ones carry weight.
In public, at events we are not able to make excuses well enough to skip (and spend much of the time in the bathroom in order to escape the crowd), we are often asked, “What do you do?” Are we defined by our careers or lack thereof? I know from experience how awkward it can be to end up on the downside of this floundering question. When I was unemployed for nightmarish reasons the public couldn’t dream of, I was embarrassed by this inquiry. I found it hard to hide, and even harder to come up with an answer on the spot. I did not realize at the time that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Once upon a time, I asked my dad how I could handle this question. He suggested telling others that I was a “Respirator.” Who would question that response even if they knew what it meant? Dad meant to employ me with a career as a “Breather.”
Breathing is a job in itself. Many people inhale and exhale on autopilot. It doesn’t come so easily for us all. When I forget to breathe during an episode of high stress, a panic attack ensues. Panic attacks are quite frequent in my life. It helps to be a “Respirator.”
When I was little, my dream job was to be an author and illustrator. I wrote short stories as a kid, and published a few poems in high school. Now, I am a published author and illustrator and have accomplished my childhood aspirations. As an adolescent I was shy, sensitive, quiet, and mostly private with my emotions. Behind closed doors I was often irritable, angry and depressed, until it was time to sleep and the tears rolled down my face. I rarely smiled in public, but my family saw me for who I truly was and I am so grateful for each member. I lived and laughed and adventured. I didn’t know why I was crying, or where the stomach aches and dread came from. I was more often a happy kid with amazing parents and wonderful sisters who always had my back. So where did these tears originate?
I suppose that because I speak freely; I jump from one thought train to the next; and I never run out of words; I am able to write down the details that form instantly with the tap of my fingers on the keys. I used to write it all down on college ruled paper, not the typed words readily produced by a computer and printer. There was not a computer at my disposal. Write it down. That is what I used to do. Then there was the typewriter. The unpublished children’s books I wrote and illustrated as a child were pieced together and illustrated with my sister’s help. I would write it all down, page by page as the ideas flowed effortlessly from my mind onto the paper. My little sister, Kimberly, would sit with me in my room and we would read the stories I wrote. She has always been thoughtful, generous and kind. She has one of the most active, vivid imaginations I have seen in my life. She helped with creative suggestions for the illustrations. Kimberly became a reader, writer, artist, and high school English teacher when she grew up. I was not surprised. I suspect she is correcting my grammar and punctuation right now.
Writing and illustrating have always been so important to me. Art is my world. It is easier to understand a puzzle or stumbling block when I create. Most of the time I don’t know what I am feeling until I read it in my own handwriting. Whatever I have going on inside sprouts up and grows on a page in prose. It is therapeutic. Writing those stories helped strengthen the bond between me and my sister, and ultimately became a huge part of who I am today.
Thank you, Kimberly. I am forever grateful for the part you have played in my life.
I hope that reading my words is helpful to others. Writing it all down is the best advice I can offer. I have changed so much since that day in elementary school when I dressed up as an author and illustrator for “Career Day.” I am no longer the shy, quiet wallflower of my past. Now I speak every thought as it appears in my mind. Writing it all down helps me focus on what I really want to say. I no longer use my typewriter and have upgraded to a laptop, but my message is the same. Love your sisters unconditionally; don’t take anyone or anything for granted; never forget who you were, are, and will be. Write it down, and remember.