Tonight, I realized that there is a question that I have never asked myself, not ever before: what kind of person do I want to be when I grow up?
I should mention right away, I’m twenty-two with a birthday in July, so some might consider me grown-up. Or, at the very least, a bit too old to be asking that question.
There’s a book series I read repeatedly, not as much for the stories themselves as for the connections between the series. The Tillerman Books by Cynthia Voigt are seven books about one family. The Runner is the chronologically first, about Bullet Tillerman. Three [Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, Seventeen Against the Dealer] are about the eldest daughter of his sister, Dicey Tillerman. One [Sons From Afar] is about her brothers, James and Sammy Tillerman. The last two [A Solitary Blue, Then Come a Stranger] are about [spoilers] Jeff Greene, her future husband, and Mina Smiths, her best friend.
What I love to study in those seven books are the parallels between different characters, and what I call the ‘redemptions’ of different characters and relationships, through the second generation, so to speak. Consistently, ‘might-have-beens’ and ‘should-have-beens’ are resolved as the series moves on, characters resolving the mistakes of the past as they fight for their family.
As much as I love the books, and as much as I read them, I enjoyed their deciding what kind of people they wanted to be – and their fighting for it – without ever applying the question to myself.
What brought the reflection on is, perhaps, a most mundane thing. This morning, as I was eating breakfast, I heard a kitten crying outside. We’ve had enough kittens to know when they are unhappy, and this one was. Being the sort of person who can’t quite resist a kitten-cry (this is, literally, not to boast; my family members and best friend know to drag me away if I hear a kitten mew), I wandered down and after some searching and careful listening, found it and pulled it out of a drain. It was tiny, tiny enough to be held in my cupped hands if it curled up. It was also soaking and dirty, so I put it against me in my shirt and sat down to put it to sleep.
Here’s the thing – I knew I couldn’t keep it. I knew it before I went looking for it. It’s not that my family doesn’t like pets – we simply don’t have a place to keep it, and possibly not enough food either. But I decided to anyway, and yet when it was dry and happy enough to be pouncing at my feet, I left it at the bottom step, went up and just…ignored its crying. Even when the rain started to pour, I ignored its crying. Every now and then, I would torture myself and go and listen to it cry, then go back to work. Because I knew I couldn’t keep it.
After a while, I decided that I would have to come to a decision. My mom and best friend are alike – if there is no practical way to solve a problem, they let it go. In other words, if they heard a kitten crying but know that there is no long-term plan for caring for it and keeping it, it can’t be helped, there’s no shame in letting it go, not looking for it, not ‘saving’ it, if ever.
I don’t blame them. Also, I do suppose, and admit, that there should be people like that. Although I tend not to like it, people like that make things possible because of an overwhelming practicality and attention to detail. They balance bleeding-heart softies like me perfectly.
That was self-deprecating, and I didn’t mean it. I’m proud, definitely, to be a person who can’t just walk away when I hear a kitten crying. Unless it was completely out of my reach in any way, I would never be able to justify to myself leaving it crying. And I have long ago decided that it is myself and my own opinion that matters, to me. (There are modifiers for that statement, but this isn’t the post for it).
So it led me to the question:
Do I want to be the practical person who acts only when there is a clear way through the problem, or do I want to be the kind of person who responds to every kitten-cry, no matter the question of practicality?
And the question expanded:
What kind of person do I want to be when I grow up?
This post doesn’t answer that question. Maybe when I figure it out I’ll post about it, but for now, my mind is buzzing wildly around that single question. I can’t say I want to be a good person, or a person who does what is right, etc., etc., etc.
Cynthia Voigt writes in a very provoking manner, as her characters challenge themselves to be the persons they want to become in the most practical ways.
They decide to hold on to family, no matter what the cost. They decide to take responsibility for their actions, no matter what the cost. They decide to look at each person as individuals and judge them on their own merits. They decide to trust those whom they love. They decide to love.
What kind of person I want to be, in the long run. When I grow up. The kind of family member I want to be. The kind of friend I want to be. The kind of human being I want to be. I decide before anything happens, and I decide and give my word on it.
P.S. That being said, there’s something else that should be said, and I know it. I’m a Christian [A Christ-follower]. And I suppose some would want to go twelve rounds with me on my saying “I decide”, while claiming I’m a Christian at the same time. But this is not the post for this discussion.