Thinking About Turning Points

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Giant Flower Pots, Mexico City Airport

This morning I’ve been thinking about turning points for some reason, and I think I need to sort this idea out here. I Googled “Turning Point” and found a church of prophetic signs, a mental health organization, an interactive polling solution website, a youth empowerment organization, an apartment complex and a Mormon TV series on byuTV. It’s clear that a lot of people have an idea about this, and that there is only vague agreement regarding the meaning of the concept. It you look a little further down the list, “Turning Point” is abandoned and you find “Tipping Point: how little things make a big difference.”

The reason I’ve been thinking about this began with a painting I did a few months ago, one that led me to realize that a certain time of my life was significant in ways I didn’t understand until many years later. It was in some way a turning point, but I didn’t know it.  Recently I’ve been trying to write the story of this part of my life, and it was only when I did the painting that I realized that this had been a significant time in ways that I didn’t understand when it was happening.

Purple Mountain Majesty

Purple Mountain Majesty

This is the painting. It isn’t one that would have any great appeal or significance to anyone but me, and I won’t tell the story here and now. But what I learned from painting it is that this time in my life was the point at which my lifelong beliefs were changed. I’d always believed that there was a basic rightness in the world and that was the basis of everything. I titled it “Purple Mountain Majesty,” because as a child we sang the song “America” so often in school. It is imprinted in my brain as deeply as my own name, I think, and for me it was always a comfort, a knowing that the mores with which I grew up were basic and true, and no matter what happened, they would remain the underpinning of everything. At this point in my life I reached a point where I could no longer believe all that.  I was going to have to save myself; the chain of events I had always imagined were not going to happen. As I tried to figure out what to paint here, I suddenly knew that I had to paint mountains, purple ones and upon doing so, understanding  was mine.

So, was this time a turning point in my life? Maybe, but I didn’t realize it to be anything but hard. It was a very painful, confusing and pressure-filled time, one that you have to concentrate so much on surviving that you can’t take time to think about it until long after it’s over. In my case, 45 years later.  I think a turning point is a time in one’s life after which something is different. Maybe everything. That’s really vague, I know. Is it a specific moment, a series of events, a period of time? I’ve always thought of a turning point as kind of an Aha! moment, one in which everything irrevocably changes. But now I’m not so sure. That would make it seem that you know it’s happening when it is. Like, “Whoa!! I just had a turning point!” but I don’t think it’s like that.

I also don’t think you can make one happen, no matter how much you need change in your life. You don’t get up one morning and think, “Boy I need a turning point. I guess I’ll get that going today.” As much as I’d like a good turning point in some areas (like eating better, keeping my house clutter free, managing my money better, meeting the love of my life, things like that) I just have not managed to make one happen yet.

Is every life change a turning point? When I became a teacher in 1992, my life changed forever. It was a good thing for me, but was it a turning point or just a career change? I think it’s becoming more clear that I have no way of defining this thing. Maybe each of us gets to define it in our own way.

This morning as I was driving to the coffee shop listening to a novel on Audible, the writer began talking about turning points. I think his thought about it is interesting, and worthy of some thought. He said, “And so there must be in life something like a catastrophic turning point, when the world as we know it ceases to exist. A moment that transforms us into a different person from one heartbeat to the next. The moment when a lover confesses that there’s someone else and that he’s leaving. Ot the day we bury a father or mother or best friend… Or are such moments merely the dramatic conclusions to lengthier processes, conclusions we could have foreseen if we had only read the portents rather than disregarding them?” (The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker.) Serendipity, right? I needed to read this at this very moment because it clarified the question in such a lovely way, even if I don’t quite agree with it all.  Even if I think that turning points don’t have to be catastrophic to be significant. I do think that had I read the portents in the situation of that painting my life would have turned out very differently. But that’s hindsight, and I wouldn’t change it if I could, pain and all.

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The photo above is the site of a recent turning point of sorts for me, one which I am only beginning to understand. I had been cleaning the tables on the far side of this patio on my first morning in Mexico. My cleaning cloth got really dusty so I went to the other side of the patio to shake it out. I was doing that when a big dog came running across the patio from where he’d been sleeping under said table, and bit me on the leg. He broke the skin and tore my pants and left me stunned. I am a dog person. I like them, they like me and suddenly one had raced across a rather large expanse of space to attack me in a run-by biting. (Leaving the slowest healing owie of my life!) He later apologized with a gentle lick on my other leg, which was sweet, but only slightly diminished the pain of the event.

This occasioned the beginning of a week in which I felt like I wasn’t really liked very much by anyone, dogs or people. I found myself trying to be different, to talk less, to be more likeable, a quieter person. Someone that people would want to do things with. All my lifelong fears of being wrong, of not being enough, of not really being liked, bubbled to the surface and I struggled with them all together, all at the same time in this beautiful place that wasn’t home. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the week, because I did, and those I met were good people, but this was working underneath it all.  On the day I left, as I waited in the Mexico City airport a realization bubbled to the surface. “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Right? That whole thing of whether or not people liked me just didn’t matter.  I’ve known this for at least twenty years, and suddenly it was the most important thing I’ve ever heard. During a long texted chat with my friend Sonya, I remembered in a new way that I am enough, just as I am. I don’t have to try to be more likable, to be better, more interesting so someone will like me more. I can only be who I am and that’s all. I am enough. As are you, and you and you. Enough. And that is a turning point that I will hold on to.