I was under five feet tall all the way until the end of my sophomore year of high school. During the summer of that year I grew to a height of five foot six and a half inches. I went from being a short girl to a tall girl in only three months. To say that I had growing pains would be an understatement. I recall taking a hot water bottle to bed with me each night to help ease the discomfort that racked my legs. It was a disagreeable experience, but I was quite happy with my new height even if it stole away my identity as a very small girl with the last name of “Little.”
Growing pains come in the form of psychological changes as well as the physical. At the same time that my body was stretching out, I was also undergoing the angst of maturing and becoming a woman. There were so many changes inside my head that I was hardly able to keep up with them. I remember being my own worst critic. Somehow it seemed to me that I was perhaps the gawkiest, least attractive most socially backward human to ever walk on the planet. It would take me many years to learn that just about all of my classmates were feeling the same about themselves. The teen years are not all fun and games. They are a time of downright hormonal confusion. It’s a wonder that we somehow manage to muddle through those stressful moments of zits, mean girls/guys and emotions that zip from highs to lows in nanoseconds.
Ultimately I came out just fine. I have to admit that I was probably in my mid-twenties before I actually looked in the mirror and liked the person that I saw. It was quite a relief to move beyond the years of wondering who I was and settling into a loving relationship with myself. It’s really too bad that growing up involves so much learning that hurts. We have to find out the hard way who are friends really are and which risks are worthy as opposed to those that harm us. We would probably be just fine if only we listened to our elders, but most of us choose trial and error as our preferred way of becoming wise.
It’s funny how each decade of our lives involves growing pains of a sort. We have to mature into the role of spouse. It takes practice to be a good parent. We find ourselves battling with our teenagers just as we always swore we never would. When the nest is empty we must learn how to be supportive of our adult children without interfering in their own journey of growth. We assume roles of caretakers for our aging parents, walking a fine line between seeing to their comfort and safety without becoming overbearing control freaks. Our life roles move here and there, and with each new experience we find ourselves feeling those growing pains that come with change.
Perhaps one of the most difficult transitions occurs when our peers die or become seriously ill. That is when we are forced to consider our own mortality without becoming fearful or morbid. We realize that we might well have been the person who is facing one of life’s most difficult challenges. We begin to ponder the limits on our time and feel a sense of urgency in fulfilling all of the dreams that we carry in our hearts. Each moment of each day becomes a bit more precious to us as we realize that we must embrace the world and its people with the enthusiasm and curiosity of a child. In some ways growing older is much like growing younger again because the world suddenly becomes a more wonderful place. We appreciate even the smallest joys far more than we might have when we felt almost immortal.
For some reason of late I have been thinking of a childhood visit to the home of my father’s best friend. I could not have been more than five or six years old when we spent a long ago Saturday afternoon at his house listening to a Texas A&M football came on the radio. We sat in a semicircle around the big upright appliance from whence came the play by play accounts of the happenings on the field. Everyone was quite happy. There were lots of smiles and a great deal of laughter. I can’t remember the details of the game, but I do have a vivid picture of the warmth that we felt for one another. I can still smell the aroma of cinnamon toast baking in the hostess’s oven, and how delicious the hot buttery slices of heaven seemed to be. It was one of those perfect days when all seemed right with the world. With the exception of my two brothers every person who was present then has now gone to a heavenly reward, and I miss each and every one of them. Mostly though I miss that incredible feeling of pure unadulterated childhood pleasure that consumed me back then. It’s one of those feelings that I do my best to emulate whenever I can these days.
It doesn’t really take all that much to simply linger in the moment with the people that we love, but we all too often get so busy that we don’t relax enough to just be. We are thinking about those chores that we need to do, or we are worrying about what we might say next in a conversation. When we are children none of those kinds of things matter. We allow laughter and happiness to fill our beings with sheer ecstasy. As we grow older we begin to allow and appreciate the same sort of surrender.
I have actually shrunk a full two inches in height as a result of osteoporosis. My legs ache at night and I often wrap them in a heating pad. It’s as though I am somehow going back in time. I now relive my past with a whole new attitude. I like almost every single aspect of myself and the person I have been. I’ve made mistakes here and there, but they don’t seem to matter. I’m getting second chances to truly embrace who I am by forgetting myself and looking outward to the people around me. I am finding a world that is far more wonderful than I ever might have imagined. I”m going in a whole new direction and the serenity that I feel is glorious and profound. I suppose that without the pains that endured as part of my own very human experience I would not be in the place of contentment that envelops me today, so I have to be thankful for the growing that I have done, and I look forward to the rest that is to come.