Isn’t it amazing that be it spending a few years in an underdeveloped country, breaking up with ‘the one’, beating drug/ alcohol addiction, or a minute conversation with a stranger on the subway; anything can prove to be a life altering experience.
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
” I was about 11 years old and I got into a horrible fight at school with my brother who was barely more than a year older than me so we were close growing up, but with a lot of tension. We had a lot of mutual friends and I don’t remember the specifics, but I felt as if he had embarrassed me in front of everyone or diminished me into being some sort of child even though our age difference was small. After school I went to my Grandmother’s place as I usually did after school at that time, while my brother went to wrestling practice.
My Grandmother had a thick French accent and lived in an enormous, overgrown looking house that was filled from head to toe with books and I LOVED it. My brother was more sporty than me and that got a lot of attention and appreciation from our father. I was more alienated from him because of being bookish. My Grandmother was my only kindred spirit in the family, and for much of my childhood really.
Anyway, I kind of tried to conceal my anger from my Grandmother at first but one day when I was helping her clean (which I enjoyed doing because we would listen to great jazz and blues artists which she loved and she would tell me about the lives of jazz musicians and stuff, and it was all very cool to me) at one point she said something or other about my brother, and I just couldn’t help it. I hadn’t cried in front of my grandmother in years but I was just so angry and frustrated that it all came out. I just told her everything right then about how overshadowed I felt by him, how my father didn’t love me the way he loved him. And then I was feeling really embarrassed for sharing.
She kind of let my emotions hang in the air and just quietly comforted me by rubbing my back, but then she told me to come upstairs with her, to her bedroom.
Her bedroom had a lot of character like a lot of the house and it was filled with photos and books and albums she loved and especially had a lot of Jewish art on the walls.
She fumbled around in her desk pulling out random papers and odds and ends until she pulled out a dusty photo album that I had never seen before which was in itself remarkable because my grandmother loved to show me photos of when she first came to America and my mother and uncles were children, all that.
We sat down on the bed and she opened it. There were all of these black and white photos of my great-grandparents when they were alive. It started with very small children and my great-grandparents looking very finely dressed and happy and page by page there was just this horrible transformation of the children getting older and my great grandparents looking like they had aged 20 years when their children had only aged a few years. I had some understanding of what was going on of course, I knew about WW2, the holocaust etc. Which is to say, I knew an age appropriate version of all that, but I was beginning to get old enough that something darker was lurking, a more visceral reality to what I knew factually to be true.
We got to the exact center of the album with my Grandmother saying very little except people’s names, when the photos were taken, etc. Then right there, over a photo, pressed between the pages, was a patch, a patch of a yellow star with the word “Juif” on it. And my grandmother, pressed the star to her chest, as if holding it to where it would have been sewn an age ago and gave me a small nod and said in her soft-breazy accent “This one was not mine, I don’t think, but Claudette’s” and she pointed down at the picture that the star had been covering.
It was of two teenage girls, young, perhaps 13 or 14, smiling in front of some sort of railing overlooking a river, stars visible in their clothing. One, I immediately recognized to be my grandmother, who, while a wonderful human being, had sort of a crooked smile and a big nose that was altogether too interesting looking to be mainstream beautiful. The girl next to her in the photo looked in many ways like her, but definitely had more classic good looks and a certain radiance that really came off the page.
“This is her. Claudette, my sister. We were very close in age, closer even than you and your brother.” she kept punctuating her sentences with a sort of bitter, humorless laugh and would pause, look away and then look back at the photo.
“She was my best friend, but I was very jealous of her, very. She was beautiful, funny. It hurt to even be jealous of her, because she was so likeable.” She sighed and I caught sight of the numbers tattooed on her arm, my earliest memory was and is of my grandmother giving me my first hair cut in front of the mirror and her guest room and my eyes catching those numbers in the reflection as if for the first time and the sudden curiosity they inspired. I felt a morbid echo of that curiosity then.
Then she said to me “I never would have thought then. That I would have been the lucky one. Your granmere has gotten old. Claudette will be 15 forever.” and her voice broke on that last word, not quite finishing it.
“Try not to fight with your brother Ezra, or else, do not let the fight go on for too long. You’re young, but you’re smart enough to know that most of us are not young forever. Trust me, the older you get, the more desperately you will need those who knew you when you were young.”
And then just like that the moment was over, she placed the star back, shut the album and kept it all away. Then she went back to cleaning, as if her own heart hadn’t broken all those years ago, as if she hadn’t just blown my kiddish young mind.
My Grandmother died when I was 16, but wrote me a card for my high school graduation in advance knowing that she probably wasn’t going to make it. On the day I graduated I opened and read her advice, her hopes for me, all good stuff. It ended with her recalling that day and what it had meant for her and how she hoped I could find balance in life between being true to myself and not sacrificing happiness.
The last line was “We all have a responsibility to remember the bad times, even when it hurts to admit that they happened; just as we have a responsibility to remember the good times, even when it hurts to admit that they’re gone. Congratulations on your graduation, I love you with all of my heart.”
I bawled then, and I’m tearing up now just thinking about it. Never has another human being had more of an impact on than my grandmother had on me. “
” I was dating a girl for 2 years and was so damn certain she was the one. She was passionate, confident, and could light up a room when she entered. At the same time, we were very different in that regard and I struggled to stay balanced in something that I wanted so badly to work.
Anxiety and a lack of motivation were a serious pattern for me. She pushed me, tried to say that it was important to her that I got a grip on things but I just couldn’t come to terms with it. In the end one day while driving back to her place she told me she couldn’t do it anymore and that she felt I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I needed to learn to believe in yourself or I would always leave people staring at a wall of nerves.
The experience hit me like a bombshell and for a long time I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through. I just wanted to do anything to stop feeling defeated.
One day while sitting there and thinking I realized that I let my fears rob me of someone I deeply cared about. It had to stop and I needed to get help.
I reached out to my folks, explained to them what I was going through and got help. After spending some time planning what I wanted out of life I began committing everyday to building back to a place where I could be proud of what I was doing. I never forgot what she said to me, and while it hurt a great deal it made me realize that I was defeating myself out of enjoying life.
Last year I saw her for the first time in 5 years. She was engaged, had moved to a new city and was happy as ever. I thanked her for helping me to realize what I was doing to myself and wished her the very best.
Every time I struggle, or start to doubt myself I remember what that experience taught me. If you are going to lose something, don’t let it be because you defeated yourself. Take charge, do your best and accept the outcome – but don’t sell yourself short. “
” For me it was getting injured, having multiple surgeries, and having to quit my teaching job and go on a long-term disability. Being on disability really sucked, and I now have more compassion for people who are permanently disabled. I also understand homelessness better. I’d probably be homeless myself if I didn’t have parents who could help with some of the medical bills. “
” One of my best friends passed away unexpectedly last August. I didn’t keep up with messaging him every once and a while and slowly grew apart. He messaged me a week before he died simply saying ‘I miss you.’
I forgot about replying like some people do and I got a call the following week from another friend saying he died. I was devastated because I had no idea he was ill. Later that day I was looking at my inbox and noticed his message and it floored me. I still beat myself up over it because all I had to say is “I miss you too we should catch up.” But I didn’t and he’s gone.
It was a harsh lesson but it changed me, and no matter what I take the time to reply to any message I get from someone I care about. “
” Up until I was a teenager, I didn’t like my sister much. She didn’t like me either.
Then, one day, I read that hugging someone makes your brain release chemicals that make you trust that person more. I didn’t buy it, so I jokingly told my sister that it means we have to start hugging our enemies to give them a false sense of security, and stuff like that. Then we jokingly hugged and we continued to hug every day for a while.
And you know what? It’s weird, but it actually worked! She’s my best friend now. “
” After my dad died in 2014 of Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic disorder, I decided to get tested in late 2015. I am gene positive. Meaning, I will develop the disease at some point later in life, but am not currently showing symptoms.
Although I’m only 26, I’ve begun working towards my bucket list and only 2 months ago, crossed off my #1 wish of visiting Germany. It was two weeks of everything I could have asked for. I have a relatively successful career, which I enjoy and am thankful for, which allows me to check off these items from my bucket list.
Knowing that my life expectancy is maybe 40 at best, based on my CAG repeats, it’s given me the chance, or maybe the reminder, to live my only life as well as I can. “
” A random stranger in passing. When I was about 16, I accidentally stepped into an elderly woman’s way while walking down a narrow walkway. We did the awkward dance trying to pass one another, as we passed each other I turned and said “I’m sorry!” to her.
She turned back to me and with a stern, but oddly charming, tone says “Don’t you ever apologize for your existence. Just say excuse me and be on your way.”
At first I took what she said as her being rude. Then I walked away and let it sink in for a bit and since then it’s stuck. I always say excuse me now if I’m in someone’s way. “
” So after a family member died I inherited almost $78,000,000. My family and friends attitudes changed completely after hearing the news. People I didn’t even know of started contacting me, almost everyone I knew asked me for money, the number of ‘friends’ I had doubled. About a week later, the lawyer that handled the last will contacted me saying there was a closer relative that they had missed. I went back to being normal and found out who were my real friends and family were. “
” I traveled a lot early in my career. I spent a lot of time in quite a few poor countries.
The worst was Haiti. I worked near a poor area. People would beg and beg for the scrap lumber from our shipping crates to build their houses. When they built a house, it was about the size of the walk-in closet in the first home my wife and I bought.
They would get their water from a community well. The water that came from the well looked more like someone stomped around in a mud puddle along the side of the road and took a glass of the resulting brown water to drink. My driver explained to us how the poor ate dirt. There was bad dirt to eat and good dirt to eat (I never asked what made dirt bad or good to eat). They explained
they would add some fat and make dirt like a small pancake and eat it.
I went to Haiti 6 times in my life to work. The poverty and corruption was like nothing I had ever seen before or really since.
Ever since then, I have never complained. I have a nice house. Nothing extravagant, but it is a nice house. I have money to put food on the table. I have multiple grocery stores within a 10 minute drive from me and I can buy anything I want to eat. I have a job that pays well and I enjoy working at.
I don’t let the inconveniences of life bring me down. If I feel sorry for myself about something, I remember the really poor people I have come across in my travels (as opposed to what I call American poor) and I am instantly thankful for what I have. “
” Getting a B in Math.
I locked myself in a bathroom stall and literally beat myself up for 15 minutes. And I cried for many days afterward.
Soon enough, I got sick of living in this misery. I wanted to let go and accept it so I could just be happy. But to be happy in spite of such a grade would mean redefining my values.
Panicked, I looked up whether I could still stand a chance at Caltech, my dream university, if I got such a grade. The general consensus was “eh, pick somewhere else.”
That was it! Not “no, you piece of __,” not “no, Caltech wants smart people. Not YOU.”
Just “pick somewhere else.”
So now I’ve truly accepted the loss of my valedictorian status, as painful as it may be. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and looking back I can see that all this grade anxiety did nothing but crush my spirit.
Now I centrally define myself as a friend, reader, learner, inquirer, helper, and daughter of God, identities that will endure my whole life – not as the tenuously hanging valedictorian. “
” I’m in my early 20s, and got dumped by my first serious girlfriend a few months ago. I really liked her and she was pretty into me, but I was constantly trying to please her and was letting her walk all over me because that’s what I believed women wanted.
I never stood up for myself when she would flake/take hours to text. Maybe even she lost respect for me because of that. Her excuse was that “she wasn’t ready” but I know I was at least partially to blame…
Instead of sulking and begging, I took the breakup as motivation to hit the gym, meet new people, read books, further my career, work on social skills, etc, so that at least if she doesn’t want to give it a second try, then a better girl will take her place. I’m so much happier now because of it. “
” To me it was definitely travelling.
By traveling I don’t mean two days in a hotel by the beach in some third world country, I’m talking several years in total immersion. I worked there, slept there, ate, met people, got drunk, got mad, fell in love, got heartbroken, split up, fell in love again, made money, lost at least as much, learned how to greet locals the proper way, and why how I’d do it in my country isn’t okay here, the whole thing. “
” An anthropology course I took in University.
The professor told us that when we look at different cultures we have to “make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange”.
So basically you need to look at cultures outside of your own and try to see them with empathy. Really try to look at it as if it was your own culture, that it was normal, or something you grew up with. And to do the opposite with your own culture.
He talked to me a lot about looking at my own culture with a critical eye, and looking at other cultures with empathy. “
” Drug/alcohol addiction, followed by recovery.
I just shouldn’t even be alive. I told a psychologist I expected to be dead by 25. But I’m 25, not dead, sober for several years, and somehow getting a Ph.D.
I literally had no idea how to stop drinking; I wanted to, but couldn’t. Somehow it happened, though. And now when I get super stressed at school, or when people bug me, I just remember the fact that I shouldn’t even be alive. All of my problems immediately become laughable and absurd when I do that.
So I’d say I learned not to take things so serious, because at the end of the day, I’m still just right here. “
” I’ve never had any truly religious or deep meaningful experience in my entire life. Sure I’ve had fun. But I’ve never really got a deep life altering, paradigm shattering experience in my entire life. Everything was just humdrum until I started experimenting with psychedelic drugs.
I was a vocal atheist and thought everybody who believed in anything like that was totally stupid. Not saying I am religious now because I’m not, but I was such a closed minded person about stuff like that.
Psychedelics showed me the potential for love. Both for myself and others. It opened me up to seeing how consciousness and existence is so much more than I ever thought it was and it showed me how to see the world a lot differently than I currently was. Also showed me just how fucking insanely beautiful and wonderful everything truly is.
I lose sight of it all the time, but deep down those experiences are still with me. “
” Growing up I was absolutely miserable. Being the fat kid in school, no attention from girls, very very few friends, more athletic family members who would single me out and pick on me. This went on through high school unfortunately.
When I was 19 things began falling into place for me through sheer dumb luck. I was (wrongly) diagnosed with ADD and the adderall they put me on caused me to lose 70 lbs in ~2 months, then the family came into some money as a result of a medical malpractice suite that killed my grandmother a few years earlier and my dad paid for me to study Japanese in Japan for 6 months.
Losing the weight and going to Japan were exactly what I needed to shake off my miserable former self. I had finally done something I could be proud of and it just kept catalyzing more and more positive changes in my life. It’s weird to think I spent the first 20 years of my life hating myself, hating the world, hating my family, just as such a miserable guy. I love all those things now. “
” My parent’s divorce. It showed me that love is not magic. It’s something that has to be worked at together.
When one party can’t or won’t do equal work, the relationship would fail. It feels amazingly good when it works out and feels atrociously bad when it breaks down. The fact is when my fairytale image of my parent’s marriage broke down with the marriage failure, it led me to have a more realistic view on life.
No amount of want alone can make things happen in relationships. It’s like carrying a really big fish tank – it’s pretty amazing to be able to move big things to new places, it’s difficult even with two people, but one person can’t do it if the other quits in the middle. If someone isn’t invested in moving it along, the tank will drop and break. And it’s a real big mess to clean up and deal with it all alone. “
” A few years ago I lost a long time friend of mine in a car accident. He fell asleep at the wheel on the interstate and crossed over into oncoming traffic, hitting a semi. We had known each other since we were 5 and went through grade school, middle school and high school together. He was 25 when he passed. I knew he had struggled with depression for a long time, but at the time of his passing he was actually in a really good place in his life. He was doing what he loved and had been dating a girl for a few years. He was happy!
So it really made me think if I were to suddenly be gone tomorrow, am I happy with where I’m at? I wasn’t, and I started to make a lot of life changes after that. I had been overweight for a long time and started working on my health and I’ve lost around 85 lbs since then. I got into a career I love and enjoy doing everyday. I stopped stressing about stupid things too. It’s not worth it. I tell my family and friends I love them a lot more frequently than I used to. And I always, always, ALWAYS make sure I get enough sleep before I have a long drive to make. “
” I joined the US military at 17, a few months after I was 18 and was standing in Baghdad watching RPGs fly towards me and hit buildings, and had people behind me.
I grew up 10 years in about 20 minutes. “
” Beating cancer.
Now I don’t have to do chemo or anything, just a couple surgeries to remove the tumor and scan nodes and stuff. I’ve got a nice scar and a story to share, but I decided I want to work on myself when I’m healed up.
I’m getting a gym membership, working on eating better, drinking very few sugary beverages, etc. My blood pressure was high every time I went to my appointments, and I think that has to do with my weight and diet.
My cancer wasn’t particularly preventable, but high blood pressure and heart diseases definitely are, and I want to make sure I stay as healthy as possible since I’m still at risk. “
Note: Comments have been edited for clarity.