When I was a teenager, I thought I knew it all. I was full of insecurities, but I was also full of opinions—strong ones! Looking back, I feel sorry for my parents. I’m sure I wasn’t an easy child to raise, especially as a teen. I didn’t like the fact that I had stricter parents than some of my friends did, and I pulled away from my mom and dad, as many teens do. I was sure my parents didn’t understand me, and I was right—they didn’t! None of their other kids were anything like me. I questioned everything and had trouble keeping rules. However, although I was tough on the outside, all I really wanted deep down was to find someone who truly understood me.
One day I found myself at a gathering where I was the only teenager. While the adults talked in small groups, I sat off in a corner by myself, watching, until a woman named Joy came over and struck up a conversation. Eventually, I opened up and told her about all my troubles. I half expected her to lecture me, but instead she just listened. I could tell that she genuinely cared about getting to know me, and never once did I feel she was putting me in my place or trying to change my opinion; she simply tried to understand me.
That conversation was the beginning of a friendship that continued through thick and thin for seven years, until Joy passed away. We would take long walks together and would sometimes write notes to each other about things that were harder to say in person. Even after she moved to a distant city, we kept in touch by phone and mail. For much of those seven years, Joy was so sick that she could have died at any time, but I never heard her complain. She was always bubbly and had a passion for people.
Joy taught me something important—that it was okay to be myself. And in the process, she also taught me to try to understand people in a deep way, to look beyond their appearance and sometimes even what they say, to accept them for who they are and show them unconditional love. Though we all seem so different, we’re all made from the same stuff, and we all need love, understanding, and acceptance. When someone sees our need and fills it, we blossom.