Updated: Oct 5, 2018
We've all had these small moments in our past that came to define what person we would become; painful and irritating as these moments can be, they are like the grains of sand around which the oyster grows a pearl. Here is one such moment a client told me.
"My father was a coal miner in the Rocky Mountains, a towering figure of such strength that he could lift a small car with one hand. He was paid in coupons which could only be redeemed in the company store. We couldn't afford shoes for everybody, so my four siblings and I shared one pair of sneakers; in winter we'd wrap gunnysacks around our feet so they wouldn't freeze.
My mother, by contrast, was of short stature, slender, almost fragile. But what she lacked in physical strength she made more than up for in willpower. One day something extraordinary happened that showed her character.
I was the first in my family to finish high school, and I did so with flying colors as an honor role student. When it came to graduation, however, I told my mom that I wouldn’t attend the celebration. “It’s not my kind of thing,” I said, “too showy. Besides, it's no big deal.” But my mom knew me better. After some back and forth, I finally admitted that I was embarrassed because I didn't have proper suit to wear for the occasion. Buying a suit, however simple, was out of the question as that was considered a frivolous expense and that the mere suggestion of it would have enraged my father.
The next day, without telling anybody, my mother went to town and pawned the only valuable she owned, her wedding ring, so she could buy that suit. To my dad, she used a white lie, telling him that she had been saving up that money penny by penny, and it was her's to decide how to spend it.
Graduation came, and a photo was taken. It shows my younger self smiling proudly in my new suit; next to me is my mother, hiding behind her back the hand that would have revealed the missing of the ring.
It's been more than fifty years, and today my closet is full of expensive suits. But looking at this photo from my graduation, I know that no suit I could ever purchase will mean as much to me as this shabby little grey one. It's not the things that matter. It’s the story, and the people we remember them by.