“People change and forget to tell each other.” -Lillian Hellman

Memory’s a funny thing. We often index  past events into distinct compartments; defining and cataloging them with definite purpose. We have these mental tally sheets of good and bad, right and wrong. And even the most open-minded of us often can find ourselves cramming our impressions of people into equally restrictive spaces.

As I reflect on the most recent portion of my life, I find myself musing over the unexpected and often bizarre turns life tends to take. I think I can say with a great deal of certainty that very few of us have found ourselves in the precise place we had once planned. We evolve in ways that are surprising and unexpected and, in embracing this fortuitous progression, can create a person of quality and substance.

In understanding this principle as it applies to me, I’ve found that extending this to those around me has provided me with something akin to having a super power. That super power is: acceptance. For someone like myself, endowed with a hearty helping of stubbornness, acceptance can, at times, seem counterintuitive. The compelling need to fight things tooth and nail can sometimes take hold and thwart any attempt at achieving acceptance. However, embracing it as weapon in your arsenal  with which you battle your way through life, will do nothing short of liberate you.

As one year after another fades into our memories, we become embroiled in the day-to-day of life; constantly striving to meet the demands of careers and family. We somehow freeze the events of the past like an aging snapshot steeped in nostalgia and catalog them under specific headings in our brains. Archived there, they lie dormant and untouched except for the rare revisiting of them on occasion.

While there’s nothing at all wrong with this method as it pertains to events and most generalizations, it can prove to be a disservice with regards to the people we’ve been blessed to know. Sometimes as we grow and evolve, we tend to forget that those we knew in these bygone eras, have changed and grown as well. We can recall with impeccable clarity the cruel actions of a class bully to the extent that part of us imagines him the same way now; as though he goes to work, punches a time card then proceeds to spend the eight-hour work day inflicting swirlies and wedgies on his coworkers. Perhaps that’s a mild exaggeration, but it’s for dramatic emphasis. I am not above employing hyperbole when it suits my purpose.

I ran into a girl once in the mall with whom I had attended high school. She was physically rather unchanged, as we had only graduated a scant two years prior, but there was a very definite shift in her demeanor. She had in school been rebellious and disrespectful, but I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t amusing. Her fights with the teachers were legendary and she possessed a tendency to back-talk that, while lacking in respect, did often supply her peers with an ample amount of entertainment.

I  called out her name and she glanced around her in surprise. Her eyes settling on mine, she seemed alarmed at first, then ashamed. As I approached her, she cast her eyes downward in embarrassment. I wondered what she could have felt so ashamed of. I hadn’t known her well enough to have merited any reaction nearly so personal. As she again raised her eyes to meet mine, I saw in them a vulnerability that was rather unexpected. It seemed to flash across her features like a restaurant marquee announcing the dinner special.

We made small talk for a minute or two all the while she fidgeted nervously. Finally with a ragged breath, she attempted an awkward smile.

“Look.” she practically spat the words out in her impatience. “I’m not the same as I was in high school. I’m a mom now and I’m not into the stuff I was into then. I’ve changed.” That’s what she had been embarrassed about. She was afraid that I and everyone else would forever remember her as being some trouble maker like she was in high school; that we would never assimilate the progression into adulthood that nearly always leads to maturity and change that she had experienced. She wasn’t giving herself  or anyone else enough credit.

But it touched me. The way she had endeavored so hard to change and to grow; much of which I suspect was the result of motherhood. And I realized something then: it wasn’t fair to pigeon-hole someone into some compartment just because it once seemed to have fit them. It was a disservice to that individual as a human capable of change, to deny them the opportunity to be recognized for that change. But, it was also a disservice to me if I didn’t allow my interpretation of that individual to be as fluid as their growth would inevitably be. I would be depriving myself of having wonderful friends who just became wonderful-er with age.

How would you feel if  everyone associated you with the worst thing you ever did? If they endlessly identified you as being whatever you were at your lowest point?

It made me think a lot that day and a lot since. I thought about the courage it takes to change and the confidence it requires to shake off the tags and labels people–including ourselves–seem so wont to affix to us. That we can change every day; that we can shape and control the people we become, that’s another super power. (Wow by the end of this post we will have developed two!)

So when we choose to accept people we take them in whole–the good and the bad. We accept them as they are now and as they’ll be in the future. We accept the worst they are with the best they are. And we give people the opportunity to surprise us. Because we’re more than the failures and fears and we each deserve the opportunity to prove that. I’m just phenomenally grateful that those closest to me have afforded me that chance, even when I didn’t feel I deserved it.



“The curious paradox  is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” -Carl Rogers