WARNING: LIFE-DEFINING MOMENT AHEAD
Moments define our lives. And often they don’t roar in like lions, they whisper or creep. Seep into our awareness, settle onto our skin, then skin down to the marrow of our bones. At times, they are so subtle they escape our notice, and it’s only later, when we look back, that we see how that seemingly insignificant moment was the beginning of a chain of events that would forever change us and our lives.
When we think of moments that define our lives, we usually think of them in abstract terms or huge events. But the most defining moments often are not in huge moments but in small, seemingly insignificant ones that define us to ourselves. That show us who we are, and who we choose to be.
Of course, these defining moments happen over the course of our lives, and throughout our lives we’re presented with opportunities to change our minds. To choose to change or be different. To make other, better or wiser choices. That’s a good thing, because we all at times take wrong turns or the scenic route. As my darling daughter would put it, “We don’t make wise choices.” So we’re given chances to make better ones and redefine ourselves.
For example, when I was in second grade, I had a buffalo-head nickel and a comic book that said it was worth a lot more than a nickel. There was a donation jar on the window ledge in our classroom at school. I had to choose. Do I keep the nickel for myself or put it in the jar to help others?
That doesn’t seem like a monumental choice, does it? A little thing for a little girl. But it was a life-defining moment. I could put my wants/needs first or try to help others. I knew it. Something inside me warned this was a big decision. I chose the jar. And helping others became a theme in my life. Oh, I didn’t define it as one then. But it did influence my focus and future decisions until as an adult that became a conscious way of life.
I chose the jar. And that put me on a path that had me adopting “I Serve” as a personal motto. When I can, I help others.
Another example. At about twenty, I was struggling. Money was tight, and, well, it was one of those times we all have where everything is hard. Like trying to keep your head above water when the water is molasses. Anyway, I went into a store and made a small purchase. The clerk made a mistake and gave me $20 too much change. That was a lot of money then. A week’s worth of groceries. Gas for the car for a month. I was broke and times were hard and I had to choose: keep the $20 or tell the clerk she’d made a mistake. In that position, it was a mental war and the temptation to do the wrong thing was powerful—a life-defining moment.
That money would have made my life a lot easier, but my conscience would have hammered me. What kind of person did I want to be? I knew I was deciding that, standing at the drugstore checkout counter. I chose to be honest. Not noble. Had to, or I’d never have been able to meet my own eyes in the mirror again without feeling like a thief because that’s exactly what I would have been: a thief. So I gave the money back to her. Was that moment insignificant? Hardly. It was definitely life-defining.
A third example came later still in life. I was grown; a wife and a mother. I went grocery shopping and put a book in the top part of the cart so it wouldn’t be wet by the cold stuff. My handbag sat atop it. I checked out, paid for the groceries and went to my car. When I unloaded the cart and lifted my purse, I saw the book. I hadn’t paid for it. I checked the receipt to be certain, but sure enough, the book wasn’t on it.
Yet another life-defining moment. Did I get in the car or go back into the store and pay for the book?
I went back and paid for the book. I still wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to feel badly (read that, feel like a crook) every time I walked into that store, and if I hadn’t paid for the book, I would have because I would have chosen at that moment to be a crook.
Those are three examples. Seemingly small and ordinary, but significant to note because they were not huge events or major incidents. In the grand scheme of things, they were little things. A nickel, twenty dollars, and a paperback novel aren’t exactly fortune-making or breaking. But they were character-making or breaking. In each case, I had to decide who and what I wanted to be. And that makes these events huge and worthy of note life and in writing.
In each case, I was totally aware that I had to define my character. There was no fear of repercussion from someone else. It was all on me. Each time, I knew that I had to decide how I would define my life. And I knew that I alone was responsible for the decisions I made.
We all have life-defining moments. Many of them. I didn’t always make the right choices. But when I have made the wrong choices, I have always been given future opportunities to change my mind and make wiser choices. From my observations of others, we all are given second and third and more chances to change our minds. To choose the type of person we want to be. Every day—every moment in every day—we can choose to make a fresh start. To pivot. To change. To become the person we want to be. We can redefine ourselves.
And that is my point. We choose. In our lives, we might have endured horrific things, wicked events where we have every reason—some would say every justification–for being adults lacking character. But the truth we cannot hide from is that we all become adults. As adults, we experience life-defining moments where no matter what we’ve endured or suffered or experienced, we decide who we want to be from that point forward. We innately know our options and we choose.
Once we choose, we are not the person we were. We are the person we have become.
Beneath all the mind-clutter, we eventually discover that it is our own decisions that define our lives. We are the people we choose to be in the ways that most matter.
A lesson from my daughter: choose wisely. You will live with the choices you make.
Your choices define your character. And your character defines how you feel about yourself. That image of you is projected in hundreds of ways to others–not by others, by you.
So today, you have homework–for yourself, and if you’re writing, also for your characters. Stop. Think. Look back at your life. Then ask yourself: “What have been my life-defining moments? Who have I chosen to be?”
If you like your answers, great. But if not, take your fresh start this offers and ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” Then embrace it, and what it takes to become that person.
Seize this opportunity to revisit your prior choices and make wiser ones. This chance to make a seemingly insignificant moment of reading one of your life-defining moments.
* * * * * * *
© 2016, Vicki Hinze. Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Star. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. Know what’s happening first: Subscribe to Vicki’s Monthly Newsletter!