I’ve often been told that I’m an “old soul.” As an adult, this is a compliment. As a kid, I hated hearing it. However, as I’ve grown I’ve learned that wisdom is acquired by knowledge and not by age. No matter how young (or old) I am I will always carry with me the wisdom, strength, and courage that growing up with Southern Baptist Grandparents has given me. I can’t get back all the time I spent as a kid worrying about things like bills, how I was going to eat my next meal, or where I was going to lay my head at night. I can’t make up the time I spend as an adult worrying about trying to get people from my past to love me. I can’t get it back. I am who I am. I spent a lot of time as a kid worryimg about medical terminology and keeping track of where my Grandparents’ nitro was in case they had a heart attack. I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother being my only friend. I couldn’t help but learn from her example.
All I know in life is that I am supposed to work hard at whatever it is that I do. I was taught that integrity and honesty were the most valuable qualities to have. So I work damn hard. I’ve held down two and three jobs at a time. I ask for nothing from no one because that is what I was taught. I value friendship and family even when it doesn’t value me. I don’t trust easily so people have to work for my friendship. A lot of people don’t have the patience or understanding to bother to get to know me. So my circle is small. Real small. And that’s okay. I can’t relate to a lot of people my age because we just aren’t on the same wavelength.
Maybe a lot of who I am has a lot to do with being an only child. I did a lot of reflection–just sitting alone in my room. My cousins weren’t always at my house. My Grandparents made sure I had enough toys and books to keep me busy. If I ever said I was bored my Grandmother would tell me “you got all them toys, so don’t tell me you’re bored.” So I played by myself. I talked to myself–a lot. Like out loud. I had this old-fashioned desk that my Grandmother re-finished and I would lay out schoolwork for my imaginary students to complete. I taught an empty chair. Sometimes I would sing hymns and preach Psalm 23 to an invisible sanctuary. Looking back, I was building parts of me that I would need later in life and I didn’t even know it at the time.
That’s another thing about me. I remember everything. I have excellent long-term memory. Every Sunday in Church, I was listening and watching. I wasn’t with the other kids who were running around and being told to hush. I was sitting quietly next to my Grandmother or Granddad sucking on peppermints or butterscotch candies. I was watching how passionate the choir sang Order My Steps. I was listening to the Reverend preaching about planting mustard seeds. In school, I would listen to the teacher but at the same time would be watching my classmates. I might not have known all the answers, but I knew I wanted good grades.
I have never understood how people can be so disrespectful to their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents–or anyone older than them for that matter. I was taught that respect is everything–especially with your elders. If I talked back as much I hear kids do these days I would have no teeth. I’m not sure what happened after my generation but the lack of respect is disgusting. I work with kids and some of the things I hear them say I just don’t understand. It’s like pulling teeth to even get a please or thank you. I learned a long time ago that common sense and common courtesy are flowers that don’t grow in everyone’s garden.
I think spending so much time watching and learning from people older than has made so much older than my age. Of course I’m leaving out everything I’ve been through. Trauma can age you. Fight or flight–do or die. All of these things make me who I am; and I am no longer ashamed of being an “old soul.” I earned that title. People don’t believe that I’m under 30. If I were to equate my mental age I think I would be somewhere mid 30s to early 40s. Something my uncle said to me in high school has stuck with me: “you only get old if you let yourself get old.” No matter how old I am physically or mentally I will still be me. I don’t have to let my age or what others think about how I carry myself define me. Because the truth is that being this way has saved my life more times than I can count. I’m quick on my feet and can think my way through any crisis. I’m thankful for the woman I have become and I wouldn’t have it any other way.