Updated: May 2
Once when I was 6 years old, my grandmother asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
We were sitting together on her elaborately-knit chenille couch graced by the company of a vast array of stuffed animals, dinosaur action figures, and matchbox cars. I replied matter-of-factly, "I want to be a paleontologist."
The whites of my grandmother's eyes grew to the size of golf balls and her head cocked back. "A what? You want to be a what?"
"A paleontologist," I said. I retrieved a pinky-sized velociraptor figurine leaning over the leg of its comparatively titanic companion, a Build-a-Bear tiger named Jack. This little ice-blue raptor with snow-tipped feet wasn't just any dinosaur figurine. He was Seismic, the uncontested emperor of this not so modestly-sized couch kingdom. All of the toys were seated in rows on each cushion waiting eagerly for him to give his important speech—whatever it was about.
My grandmother watched me carry Seismic. This diminutively-sized but mountainous personality hopped from the couch to the coffee table and held his head high as he walked slowly to the center. He might well have taken a sip of the enormous Aquafina bottle sitting on the table to clear his throat. My grandma said, "Wow, that's a big word! Tell me, what is a paleontologist, dear?"
"You don't know what a paleontologist is?" I asked. I furrowed my brow at her. I thought she was crazy for not knowing everything there is to know about dinosaurs.
"No, I've never heard of such a thing. You've stumped me," she said. "What is a paleontologist?"
"Someone who digs up dinosaur bones," I said, no less offended by her question this time than the last.
I was just about to open my mouth to give Seismic's speech when my grandmother asked, "Is that a dinosaur?"
"Yes. His name's Seismic. He's a velociraptor," I replied. I decided I'd have to give her the run around about every dinosaur in my dinosaur dictionary book. Seismic's mayoral speech would have to wait. "Dr. Grant said it can rip your belly open with its big toe talons and make your guts spill out."
"Oh!" She said. She appeared visibly disturbed. I had said such morbid words to her in such a matter-of-fact way. "I don't think I like velociraptors very much then! Are there any nice dinosaurs?"
"I don't think so," I said. I was disappointed in her for disrespecting Seismic, but I gave her a pass this time. I hadn't told her he was the emperor of this kingdom yet. I responded with a sigh, "Dinosaurs don't get along that great because they're always mad at each other."
My grandmother chuckled. "They sound kind of like humans!"
My grandma's clever remark didn't mean much to me then. My 6-year-old brain absorbed everything there was to know about paleontology, but I knew little of anything outside my fantastically dinosaur-centric world. Little did I know her comment was reflective of something I've noticed in human relationships.
We oftentimes aren't so great at dealing with interpersonal conflict.
This age-old tension kindles what many existentialists have defined as humanity's fear of what lies over the horizon of our understanding. Discovering what is new merits a terrifying blend of chaos and anguish.
Yet, it too holds the key to our most treasured moments: the most beautiful and sublime unparalleled.
How little I knew of the pain and frustration of adulthood. For all I knew, everyone around me was as receptive to new ideas and concepts as I was. As far as I was concerned, the rest of the world had just as imaginative and unbound a spirit as mine. How kind of my caretakers to put on a brave face and a warm smile on my behalf despite the turmoils they faced every day.
I wasn't privy to the limitations imposed upon them by a world that wanted to press them into a cookie-cutter mold. I could intuit at a young age that they saw a light in me. They cherished my profoundly youthful and inquisitive little soul. They hoped so desperately that this cruel world would never clip my little wings.
Bear in mind that dinosaurs, with the exception of the archaeopteryx, the pterodactyl and a few others I suppose, were flightless beasts. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that I would gradually abandon my passion for the extinct/grounded prehistoric world and give way to an even more boundless, creative, and receptive way of life. It's the least I could do and it is an homage paid to the people in my life who wanted nothing less for me than to shine in a world marred by darkness, injustice, and crippling uncertainty.
But What Good Is It to Shine My Light Alone?
Even the everyday elements of the outside world can threaten the extinction of a solitary flame. But a city of candlelights only needs one surviving flame to rekindle its lost light.
I believe to be kindled is to inspire fellow dreamers and self-starters to take ownership of their lives. Nobody should feel foolish for marching to the beat of their own drum. Those who dare to be unique should be celebrated for championing innovative ideas and challenging antiquated norms.
To be kindled is also to encourage those who seek peace and fulfillment to invert their locus of control from without to within. There are some answers which can only be found when the human heart embraces, in equal measure, the devilish and most angelic of its innermost antipodes.
Stay kindled. You owe it to yourself to protect your flame. Sometimes you have to drudge through the darkness to get to the light, but it's ludicrous to think you can find your way through this labyrinth of narrow and dimly lit corridors without so much as your own solitary flame.
Light the way from within and you'll find more lights. You'll find there are far too many whose candles are dimly lit but whose wax is strong. Offer your own flame and watch as both your flames strengthen and the way through to greener pastures grows clearer.
These are the words I offer to myself every day. They are my heroes. Perhaps they are Seismic and Jack and the rest of the toy village reminding me to never forget them; to never stop imagining.
As the nationally-renowned suicide prevention speaker Kevin Hines once said, "We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers."