In this blog, I will revisit some key episodes in my life and explain how I decoded them, either at the moment they occurred or over time. Positive or negative, these events have turned out to be gifts that helped define my career.
Indeed, the vivid memories of our existence are not there by accident. Each one carries a life lesson that can support us in our growth process. Whether positive or painful, these memories become the foundation of who we are. And their symbolic decoding gives them an almost sacred meaning.
When you manage to make sense of an experience – either on your own or through a book, a work of art, or with the help of a friend or therapist – the painful imprint fades and gives way to a sense of liberation and expansion.
« Guess the riddle or I devour you », said the Sphinx.
Ever since I can remember, I have always preferred to decode the enigma rather than be devoured by the trials and misconceptions of life.
When I reflect on my experiences, many things start running through my head because my life is rich with episodes which are both simple – yet very intense.
So, today I allowed one such experience to come to the surface naturally.
My childhood was difficult in many ways. Communicating with others has never been easy for me. I have always been very direct – never filtering any thoughts.
One thing I had an especially hard time with was accepting gifts. Nothing ever pleased me. And instead of thanking the giver, I would usually make comments about what was wrong with the gift or why it was a poor choice. Although this was done without malicious intent, I would typically reject any presents without mincing words and without noticing the suffering I caused.
That said, there were some presents that weren’t rejected because I could feel the benevolent intention of the person who had given it to me.
When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I was at a family gathering. A family member (an aunt, I think) just got back from a shopping trip and began to distribute gifts to everyone. There were six or seven family members present and everyone received and opened their small – or not so small – gift. It was a cheerful and very friendly mix of children and adults, all under the spell of this moment of sharing gifts and surprises.
The gifts were well chosen and included some very beautiful things. Wrapping paper was piled up on top of the table and laughter and jokes filled the room.
In these surroundings, I felt I was opening up to others. I – so often alone and on the defensive – dropped my guard. I was ready to dive in – heart and soul – into this carefree moment of happiness.
By now, everyone else had received their gift. Finally, my turn arrived and I was waiting -smiling and cheerful (which was not often the case) – to find out what my gift was.
My aunt turned to me and said, « Of course, there’s nothing for you. I know you don’t like presents.”
I can’t describe the humiliation, desolation and loneliness I felt at that moment. I was too proud to let them see me cry, but I can still feel the lump in my throat. To this day, I have no idea how I managed to hold back the tears.
What hurt the most – above and beyond the lack of a gift – was the scathing, dismissive and profoundly mean tone used to deliver the message. None of the other family members were paying any attention to me – each one busy in appreciation and exchange.
I took in this collective validation of my rejection and wondered how I could go on living…
Then I felt a small hand slip into mine. My little 7-year-old neighbor – who I often took care of – was also there that day. She had received a small toy.
She looked at me tenderly and said: « I will always love you » and handed me a piece of paper where she had hastily sketched a bright sun and a flower that said: « I love you my Chantou ». There was my gift!
So, I received two gifts that day. One went much deeper than the most beautiful object I could have received. That this little girl, at the tender age of 7, was able to pick up on my distress and all that was going on moved me deeply and put me back on track.
I was not perfect and, with my surly side, was not necessarily an object of love for others. But I knew that the children I loved so much would always be there along the way to give a sense of purpose to my life. I knew that by helping and loving them, I could also grow, change and understand myself better. And that’s what I did!
My aunt was right, all things considered. And, I certainly deserved this harsh lesson given to me without love. I needed to see how, throughout my life, I might also behave without loving and understanding others.
The imprint of this experience helped me question myself and correct my stubborn attitudes.
And for this valuable lesson, I’d like to thank this aunt!