Friday, February 18, 2011

Sixth Grade

Customer service representatives know that for every positive experience a person has (at a business, restaurant, etc.), they will likely tell one other person. For every negative experience a person has, they will likely tell at least eight people.

I've found this to be true in myself by way of compliments and criticisms. If I were to receive oodles of positive compliments, I'd appreciate them, remember them for awhile, then possibly forget. But time after time, one stinkin' negative comment, I will probably remember for years.

This semester, one of my professors is using my book to teach her College Writing II course. The other day, she gave me a list of her student's responses after reading half of my book.

A sampling of answers:
"Where is Cambodia?"
"Why does she whine so much?"

I read the responses and wanted to be strong and secure.
I wanted to be objective and understanding.
But instead, all I wanted to scream was, "NUH-UH! Not if I hate YOU first!"

I met with my professor the next day. She reminded me of the inevitable: I am not my book.

Profound. Right?

Nearly three years ago, when I was nineteen years-old, I traveled alone to Cambodia with an impressive amount of baggage and lessons to be learned. It was not my finest moment. In fact, it was my worst moment yet. I wrote blogs regularly as a way to cope and gain perspective from friends and family back home. Then, upon returning, I was asked if I would share my blogs to be printed in a book.

Publish all my dirt and worst moments in a book? Sure. Why not?

The motivation in printing the book was that, everyone struggles with something. If my worst moments could help someone else gain strength, to know they're not alone, it would be worth it.

I will never defend that while I was in Cambodia I was thinking clearly or making all the right decisions. I made a lot of weird, crummy decisions. But it is what it is.

If someone read my diary from 6th grade and criticized me for being so superficial, so selfish, and so narrow-minded, I would laugh. Who cares if I was acting selfish? I was twelve. I would not feel the least-bit bad for who I was because I am someone else now.

I am not who I was three years ago.
I am not who I was a week ago.
Or fifteen minutes ago.

We are constantly changing, growing, learning, and forming newer, better or worse versions of ourselves. And that's okay. We are human.

After talking with my professor, I was walking to my next class when a freshman girl from Nigeria whom I've never met, stopped me. "Are you Heather Bohlender?"

I nodded.

"I'm reading your book in my College Writing II class. I just wanted to tell you how much I'm loving your book. I've only been in the U.S. for a few months. It's . . . hard. I've never felt so lonely and misunderstood in my life. Somehow reading your book has made me feel like I'm a little less crazy. Thanks."

She walked away and I stood mostly speechless.

Following the trend of customer service, I would forget her kind comment and instead focus on the anonymous "others" who may or may not have actually read my book at all.

I'm choosing to listen to the girl with a face. A name. And a kind word.


Anthony said...

Thank the Lord we don't suddenly "arrive". Life is a chronological, emotional, spiritual, physical journey. I like how you explained that in this blog. I also thought it was profound the thought that "you are not your book." Revolutionary.

Anonymous said...

how do you do write so profoundly? how do you listen to your life/heart so well? i am in awe of your abilities. your an inspiration. no need to publish this. just wanted you to know i see you.