Who we choose to surround ourselves with impacts every part of a life under construction.
Having been born into a quiet, follow-the-rules type of family, I was in awe of a free-spirited new friend in the very early grades of elementary school.
I can look back on it now, all these decades later, and sort of see myself as Opie Taylor being cast into the path of a wild, free-wheeling boy on the streets of Mayberry. The similarities between Opie’s predicaments and my own are uncanny.
My new friend had spunk, and an independent streak about 10 miles wide. I might have had it, too, if I had been born into the same set of circumstances. She had freedom for days, coupled with disinterested parents, big brother bullies and a tinge of boredom that set flame to a desire to make things happen.
Because she lived in town, she had a note giving her permission to walk home for lunch. She urged me to break out of the cafeteria line and go with her. For a long stretch of time, my courage just wasn’t strong enough to break that huge rule. I knew better.
In time, my chin up with defiance I was learning from my new friend, I snuck out of the cafeteria line and sauntered out the door. No one stopped us. We walked down the sidewalk with great laughter. We were breaking big rules, and we were free. We got to my friend’s house and found nothing much to eat. By the time we got back to school, I was hungry, but it was too late to buy a cafeteria lunch.
My attitude was salty and now haughty. I broke a rule and got away with it. My friend didn’t like one of our elementary teachers, and she made it her mission to convince me to join her campaign of disrespect. I wasn’t smooth or smart enough to know how to stand up, speak up, walk away, hold my ground.
By the time I stepped off the bus on that afternoon I had broken free to do nothing but essentially skip lunch and take a walk, my father was waiting for me. What I hadn’t bargained for was a village filled with people who knew who I was and cared enough to wonder why I was walking the sidewalks of the town when I should have been at school. One man cared enough to call my parents. The school hadn’t caught me, but the citizenry cared enough to turn me in.
It was a call that turned me back around. Like Opie Taylor, I had known better. I had wanted this spunky new friend and was driven to step in her shoes and twirl toward the precipice. There was so much freedom in her life, in fact, it felt both glorious and frightening beyond words.
A few months later, I was granted permission to spend a Saturday morning with my friend, with the agreement I would be picked up by noon. My friend was expecting her mother to come for a visit and take her for the weekend to her home. She was excited, as it had been a long time since she had seen her mom. We sat on that front porch, waiting. Eventually, my own mother came to get me, but my friend was still waiting. I learned later her mom never came, and there was no phone call to explain.
I went home to two parents and tons of rules. I had spent months bristling at the tight hold those rules had on me, when I had a big new world suddenly beckoning to bust those reins and guardrails. I had a taste of talking back with sass, ignoring chores, severing rules with wild abandon.
Perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me was witnessing the flip side of my friend’s unbridled freedom. It woke me up, it set me down with a thud so hard it shook my soul and my conscience. When my father now said, “You are not to speak to your mother that way. You know better,” I finally heard what he was saying.
I was young, impressionable, starting to build my own choices. At the end of one year and the start of a new slate, all these years later I find this a good time to consider where my energy is being spent, and try to make the best choices. Life is short. Live it well.
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