Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random formative events from childhood

Sometimes as a kid, you don't know which mildly exciting or semi-normal events will end up having a meaningful effect on you. I was thinking about it the other day, and here are a few experiences from my childhood that, in retrospect, really made an impression on me.

1. A few times when I was young, my family hosted pairs of exchange students from Japan. They gave me books of Japanese fairy tales translated into English and lots of odds and ends from their home country. As soon as I got the chance in ninth grade, I started studying Japanese. This had a huge effect on the rest of my life - I majored in Japanese in college and spent time there as a student in 2000 and loved it beyond all reason. Thanks, random Japanese exchange students!

2. We used to go camping at the Oregon coast, at a place called Ft. Stevens. I really liked that place, even if, as my sister and I always laughed/worried about, the doors on the bathroom stalls were not large enough to guarantee one's privacy. We rode bikes all over the place and explored the abandoned battery and saw old covered bridges (? - I swear I remember this) and paddled boats across the lake and roamed the beach and gazed wistfully at the wreck of the Peter Iredale. I can't point to a specific direction my life took as a result of spending time at Ft. Stevens. I just know that I always felt that life and God were good when I was there.

3. When I was in seventh grade, I went with my family to a migrant workers' camp to distribute donated clothing to the people who lived/worked there. I have no idea what the context was, or why I went, but it really had an impact on me. I was learning Spanish that year at school and this was the first time I used it with real, live people whose only language was Spanish. It was a formative experience because I saw, very close up, a different way of life. And I mean that in both material and linguistic terms.

4. When I was 12, my oldest brother left for college. The family dynamics were so different when he was gone.  All at once, I missed him...and yet really enjoyed his absence. I think it was the first glimpse I had of the concept that we five kids were all growing up, as well as the happier realization that someday maybe we would exist as siblings without beating each other up all the time or fighting over toys. It was a bittersweet time, I guess.

5. One of my Mormon Seminary (an optional class we took during lunchtime in high school) teachers had a tradition called The Circle, or something like that. Once each year, he sat the class down in a circle and read them some fake scenario about being stuck in a well (?) and only a few people could be rescued (?) and everyone would end up crying and saying how much they loved everyone else. BY THE GRACE OF GOD, I somehow missed that single day of Seminary, unintentionally, every year. That is called divine intervention, because if I had been present for that "lesson," it is possible that I would have run out of the building screaming and never gone back. I am not kidding. I was a bit of a cynic when it came to Seminary and I think that would have pushed me over the edge. Manipulating teenagers into feeling generic strong emotion and then suggesting a relationship to sincere religious feeling: Just. Don't.

Anyway, these are some events in my life that didn't seem big at the time but have really helped make me who I am. I'm sure there are more that will come to mind over the years. What seemingly insignificant events in your life have helped forge your identity?


  1. I remember going to Seminary on the "Circle" day, although we were trapped in a cave. I had the same thoughts as you articulated above. I didn't run out of the building screaming (after all, I was stuck in a cave), but I wanted to. Not cool. Not cool at all.

  2. I felt that way about testimony meeting at girls camp. I always wondered if I was the only one not into that, guess not. I don't mind being manipulated emotionally for entertainment sake but when you are messing with belief systems...well that is where I draw the line :)

  3. um, apparently i totally missed that seminary day too every year! ha! good thing too, i feel the exact same way as you! :) i love the random thoughts. your blog makes me happy!!

  4. Hi Jen! I know Brother F. did it for two years, and I think Brother C. did it for one of the years he taught. Lucky us for missing it!

  5. I hope my cousin Mikael was there, with tears streaming uncontrollably down her face

  6. I have a similar church one - I remember our Bishop sitting down with our YW class and explaining that if we engaged in immoral sexual behavior before marriage, the Atonement could fix it eternally, but there were still life-long consequences... and the one I remember him really harping on was the fact that we would be damaged goods and no righteous man would ever want us. And we'd be stuck in a life of poverty with an abusive husband because that's all we would ever deserve.

    And I remember walking out of that knowing instinctively that what he said was a bunch of crap, and when I told my dad that story and he agreed that it was a bunch of crap, I decided right then and there that I didn't have to believe every single thing a church leader ever told me... that I was my own authority on matters of testimony, and that it was between me and God. I didn't have to believe everything some well-intended (but ultimately completely wrong) bishop said - I got to decide, with God, what was truth. And it has seriously informed my life ever since. So thank you, idiot bishop, for your terrible lesson that probably ruined the self-worth of every other girl in the room - it ended up being a positive day for me!

  7. I don't remember the seminary thing either. Thank heavens--that sounds awful!

    1. What?!? Now I need Julee or Mikael or someone to get on here and tell us they experienced this. I am 100% positive it was a thing.

  8. I also recall the seminary cave experience. I unknowingly participated the first time. What a terribile experience. I only willfully missed a few seminary classes in my days, but I'm pretty sure that the next cave experience was one of them. It felt soooo wrong.

  9. I do not recall that happening in Seminary, however I am pretty sure it was a Girls' Camp thing. I've never been able to articulate it as perfectly as you did: "Manipulating teenagers into feeling generic strong emotion and then suggesting a relationship to sincere religious feeling" but that pretty much sums up the "spiritual" parts of Girls Camp, don't you think?


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