A dear friend of mine sent me a great post about a Johannesburg South Africa filling station that has become quite a landmark in Gauteng with its daily “#PetrolPumpWisdom”—uplifting quotes written on a chalkboard. My favorite was “Be who you needed when you were younger.”
That got me thinking: who did I need when I was younger? Honestly, I can’t think of anyone; I really had the people around me I needed. I had parents who pushed me to be better, and who celebrated my triumphs with me. They didn’t let me get away with slacking off homework, and, although I grumped about it, I was able to get good grades.
I had a small circle of friends I liked and trusted. I was one of the few who was an only child, and it always amazed me when I went to play at the house of a friend who had siblings. The whole concept was hard for me to imagine; I always had my parents’ and grandparents’ full attention, love and support. It was hard for me to understand not being the center of attention.
When I got to high school, it was a whole new world. I found inspiring teachers who ignited my imagination and encouraged me to do better, always better. I adored English, writing, and reading, and my teachers introduced me to authors I might never have found on my own.
I was an average scholar, and average in physical education, which in my school was basketball, field hockey and gymnastics. I never did “get” what was so great about sports; to me they were all just games and nothing of great importance. Once by sheer accident I scored the winning goal in a field hockey game, and all that week people who had never spoken to me before praised my skills.
I didn’t get it; it really was an accident. I didn’t like sports because I never grew up with them. My family was a reading family; that was our “sport,” outside of camping, having picnics, and doing things together.
But then my life changed when our high school introduced drama and it was announced that each year we would put on a musical and a dramatic play. A musical and a dramatic play—each year!
Those plays changed my life. I found a deeply competitive spirit inside me I never knew existed; when there was a part I wanted (and I always went for the leads), I studied the script. I practiced singing the songs. I went for those parts with a ferocity that surprised me. I wanted, no—I needed those roles.
Now, so much later in life, I realize that the stage at that time in my life was my way of being somebody. I wanted that as badly as a sports person wants to score that winning goal, or that extraordinary student who craves being the school valedictorian. That stage was my big ‘something’ that set me apart, and I fought for it as if my life depended on it.
I had loved theater all my life; each summer Mom and I would drive off on a summer night to see all the Rochester Music Theater plays. Once each year we would go to Boston to see the D’oyly Carte company perform Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. That was my absolute favorite; I fell so deeply in love with all things Gilbert and Sullivan that I have never stopped loving it.
So yes, I was lucky enough to have those people I needed when I was young. I was lucky in my family, my friends and my teachers. That slogan, “Be who you needed when you were younger” strikes a special chord for me now. I have granddaughters whom I love and cherish. I hope that I can bring to their lives something that they need that I can give them.
Most of all, I hope that I can be a comfort and a listening ear, a loving heart and a kind spirit. I hope that I can be that someone they need when they are young.