While working on an assignment for school, my daughter found an interesting line of poetry. In her poem “Finding Voice,” Joellen Strandburg’s last thought is “I am everything of all I have met.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea and whether it’s true. I think about my first experiences and influences—good and bad—and how they shaped me. If I we had lived in a different town and I had gone to a different school, who would I be? Would I have turned out remarkably different? If I had never traveled to other countries or if I hadn’t gone to college, would I even recognize the me I am right now? If I had pursued sports in school instead of chorus and drama—other than being a really frustrated, uncoordinated person—would I now be more likely to watch ESPN instead of PBS?
But then I think about that age-old argument of Nature vs. Nurture. How much of our personality, strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and limitations are written in our DNA from the moment we are created and how much is created in us over a lifetime of experiences?
My best guess is that it is both. It is Nature and Nurture. Our actions and behaviors are a result of a mixture of inside and outside influences that make us who we are and who we could be.
Of course, we are not just receivers of the influence of others. We can also be the ones who impart it.
I was reminded of this fact in a bold way this week at the funeral of a kind and generous man who held a significant place in our family. There was a theme to the messages of condolence for his wife, sister, mother, and children. They told his family what a difference this man had made in their lives.
They told stories of how he had selflessly served others, how he had shown up at just the right moment to help. They spoke of his concern for all and neglect of none. His example and encouragement spurred them on to be kinder, more caring people.
If I must say that “I am everything of all I have ever met” then let this be my legacy. Let me be not a blank paper to be written on by whomever I encounter, a sponge soaking up their bitterness and disappointment. Instead, let me be discerning in what influences I allow and, beyond that, let me be an influence for good. Let part of the “everything” that I am be a series of writing on the papers that are the lives of others so that someday they can say, “knowing her made me a better person.”