"The more teachable we are, the more mature we will become."
Ask a child, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and the face beams, the chest swells, and the confident, fill-in-the-blank reply comes quicker than you can take your next breath.
"Fireman! Policeman! Astronaut!" the boys might say, and the girls, at least in my gender-specific day, "Teacher! Movie star! Mom!"
One of my grandchildren wants to be a veterinarian, even if she can't pronounce the word. The youngest dreams of dinosaurs, but we'll wait to teach him "paleontologist." Still another has given up her plans to swim with the dolphins at Sea World, because my technically savvy teenager believes she is a natural at creating ways for other people to spend as much time on the computer as she does.
I smile, and remember the answer I gave during my college entrance interview. When asked what I planned to do with my education, I went into a passionate account of my humble roots and problem-studded youth, which I thought qualified me to solve problems for everyone else. The interviewer suggested aloud that I major in psychology, while writing, "Barbara wants to right the world." (Years later someone redefined my uber-confidence as "a messianic complex.")
I guess writing an opinion column is an extension of my still-smoldering "right-the-world" ambition, but in recent years as I've learned about the founders of Columbia County, I've been struck by the extraordinary resumes of those who by today's standards had barely any preparation at all.
William Few, for example, became an outstanding lawyer, politician, county and national leader after being little more than home-schooled and observing other lawyers. William Crawford, who received all his formal education at Columbia County's Mount Carmel School before simultaneously teaching at the Academy of Richmond County and learning law from a local attorney, was serving in the U.S. Senate while still in his 30s. Within the next decade he would become Minister to France, serve in the cabinets of Presidents Madison and Monroe, and be nominated for the presidency himself.
And William's cousin George Crawford, Columbia County's only governor and, later, president of Georgia's Secession Convention, received enough education in his father's library to attend Princeton, become an attorney, and be appointed Attorney General for the State's Middle Judiciary District - before he was 30.
By the above standards, I'm definitely a late bloomer - if, in fact, my resume contains more than a bud or two. But maybe we're not the best judges of our own growth anyway. I thought about this after spending a delightful, "catch-up" day last week with long-time friends I seldom see. Like seeing a child after a long absence, we noticed growth in each other that a constant observer might not see.
Jim and Loretta were our sponsors when my husband entered the Army 40 years ago. Jim was a chaplain and, because I am an organist, he was also my boss. As couples, we had common interests and similar-aged children. Occasionally we were stationed near each other and, since Jim grew up in Georgia and we settled here, we have stayed in touch ever since. They are also interested in local history, including my efforts to compile the history of Columbia County, which is why we were together last week.
Other than making suggestions, however, what was shared in the course of conversation about personal growth matching the task each of us has been given to do was far more important than smoothing syntax or correcting information.
"If I'd known I would work for a newspaper and write a history book," I said, "I could have skipped college." Though I meant I've learned infinitely more since college than I did while I was there, Jim emphatically disagreed.
"No, you couldn't," he said, "because everything you learn is based on what you've learned or experienced before. Remember, nothing happens in a vacuum."
Retracing our steps and discussing how we had all changed since those early, wannabe years took the rest of the day and consumed my drive home. Nothing is wasted, I agreed, not my "problem-studded youth," not settling hundreds of miles from where I started out, or moving an equal distance from what I thought I would be doing "when I grew up."
I might never understand how this Yankee author ended up writing a Southern tale, but with my friends' encouragement and as the project winds down, I am beginning to believe that this is the garden where I was supposed to be planted.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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