It was summer, I was three, and I was in a raging fury. Rays of gold streamed in through the screened-in porch windows and cast alternating dark and light patterns on the child-sized blue and white table, covered in crumpled paper, scattered crayons, and sticky spots of glue residue left behind by small fingers. A dark-eyed brunette girl sat in the smaller of the chairs that matched the table, while a blue-eyed blonde sat in a miniature, banged-up orange porch chair. The very loved porch chair was in such poor condition because the precocious three-year-old me (I’m the blondie) often bent various parts while utilizing the chair in every way possible except the way in which the designer envisioned it to be used. I used that porch chair as a stepping stool, a hat, a tutu, a projectile, a pillow, and in place of various other objects that exist in real life but that I considered far too ordinary to use for their intended purpose.
My creativity often exhibited itself in curious ways such as this—I had a habit of doing the opposite of what was expected, at times to the chagrin of my mother. If there was a path provided for us to walk on in the park, I made sure not to take it because it provided very little challenge and interest to my day. I had walked on paths in parks before, and by that time (by the time I was three, that is) I found it highly overrated. On the particular occasion in which I was sitting on a porch chair and my best friend in the whole world, Jamie (the brunette—I was two weeks older than her, just to be clear) who also happened to be my next-door-neighbor, was over for a playdate. It was arts and crafts time, hence the room appearing as if a tornado full of glue, paper, and crayons blew through. I had just created one of the most masterful pieces of art a three-year-old had ever wrought with her own hands. One of my favorite arts and crafts activities involved tearing colorful pages out of National Geographic magazines and making collages. These were special collages because I would tear the magazine pictures into a hundred tiny pieces, glue them back together again, then tear them into a thousand tinier pieces, glue them back together again, and so on. As you could imagine, my artistic process was long and involved and very detailed. The reason for my temper tantrum was that Jamie had committed the ultimate best-friend-for-life betrayal and scribbled in crayon all over my newly created masterpiece. I ran, sobbing, to my mother and exclaimed “Why would Jamie do this to me?,” to which she responded, “Maybe Jamie didn’t know that your collage was important to you and that you wanted it to be your own. Perhaps she just wanted to help you, or didn’t understand that what she was doing would hurt your feelings. You should forgive her.”
This left me dumbfounded. I had never even thought that Jamie was doing something without intentionally making me feel bad. It hadn’t crossed my mind. Not an inkling. Not even considered. I simply knew she was trying to hurt me, and hadn’t had a doubt about that assumption until my mom suggested it.
I must’ve sat on that ugly orange carpet in the room adjacent to the porch and stared at the flamboyant 90’s wallpaper for at least 15 minutes (quite a long time for a three-year-old) just thinking about my newest epiphany. I remember even now, quite clearly, that this was the first time I ever recognized that people think in different ways and can have different perspectives. It was such an alien idea that I could hardly wrap my mind around it. I started thinking about everything people had done that had made me angry or sad, and trying to figure out why they had done it and considering the possibility that maybe they weren’t trying to hurt my feelings. For the first time in my life, I put myself in someone else’s shoes and exhibited empathy and forgiveness while understanding what they were and why they were important.
I don’t know what ended up happening to that collage. I hope it is somewhere in Jamie’s house, or squirreled away by mother in my basement (she hates throwing away my art, even if it’s scribbles from second grade). Jamie moved to California only two years after our playdate on the sunny porch, but I’ll always have that moment to remember her by, and to remind me each time someone hurts me that there is always another reason for someone else’s actions than malign intent, and that I must always give others the benefit of the doubt, my empathy, and my forgiveness.