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Thursday, June 19, 2008

By Definition...

Last weekend I attended my little sister's wedding. It was filled with family old and new and despite the chaos that is inherrent in arranging and orchestrating a couple's nuptials, it gave me a chance to appreciate the family I have and the experiences that have shaped my life into what it is today.

While I am still living the swinging life of a single 20 something (and rather enjoying it, thanks for asking), I can imagine that marriage is not only life changing, but somewhat life defining. From that point, your life will never be the same, and you will forever, in one way or another be defined by your marriage. As I was considering this, I began to think about some of the experiences that have, to this point, defined me.

For me there are several...

  • My mission was clearly defining in that it taught me how fundamental a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ is in my life. It taught me how to work hard, and, perhaps, most importantly, it taught a chronically cynic and emotionally-guarded political science major on her way to the cold world of law school (thank goodness for detours on the career super highway) how to love those around her, regardless of how painful it could be.
  • My time in Spain...it was on this trip that I developed a love for many of the things that I enjoy most...art, languages, night life, truly delicious food, and discovering the intricacies (strange, beautiful, and otherwise) hidden in otherwise daily scenes and activities.
  • My move to Washington DC...this year has been so formative for me. I have grown up so much, and never before have I felt so comfortable in my own skin. After 12 long years I have finally grown out of my awkward stage...
As I thought about my life, these and many others came to mind. But, strangely, I kept coming back to one very early, and ultimately defining moment. Less of a moment, it is more of a story that has become a staple of Stanfill family lore; an event that I truly believe, in all seriousness, as strange as it may seem, set me on the course that I still find myself pursuing today...The Cat Incident.

Nobody forced me. That is the first thing you must know about this story. At no time was I ever made to do anything I was not completely comfortable with. I was encouraged to acknowledge my own limits, and act within those bounds. This is interesting, because I was four. That is the way my parents raised me, though...I never remember being treated like a four year old...more like an adult trapped in a very tiny body.

So that is where it begins. I was four years old. My family was living on a large cattle ranch in South Central Montana...you can google 'Middle of Nowhere' and it should be one of the first hits you get. It was a wonderful way to grow up, and there are still times when I miss it in a way that startles me. We were living in a tiny house on the ranch that had been moved there, originally, to house hired-hands. Because the house was not built on the site, it had been placed on a makeshift foundation of cinder blocks. There was a crawlspace beneath the house and a small opening in the foundation to the side of the front door that provided access to the space beneath the house.

That winter had been very cold, and, in an attempt to escape the weather, an ill-fortuned tom-cat crawled under the house to take advantage of the warmth, and met with some misfortune. More specifically, it died. I don't know how many of you have ever had the opportunity to be around a dead cat for more than a day or so...it is not a pretty thing. Needless to say, a dead cat detiorating beneath the kitchen of our very poorly insulated house was not a particularly pretty thing either. Something had to be done, but there were some problems...

The main problem was that there was no possible way my dad was ever going to get his 6'4" frame into that little opening beneath the house to get that cat out. In all actuality the main problem was that NONE of the men on the ranch (dad, grandpa, the hired men, etc) were ever in their wildest dreams going to be able to get that cat...and it needed to be got...fast.

So, my dad made me a proposition. He told me that if I would take a piece of bailing twine and crawl up in that hole and tie it around that cat's leg and pull it out of there, he would hold the flashlight so I could see (oh, AND I would get an extra cupcake after dinner, I remember that part quite clearly). He took me outside and showed me the hole, he showed me the hangman's loop he had tied in the twine, and he showed me how the flashlight made it as bright as day under the house. Then, he let me choose.

I think this is where part of the definition starts to come into play. My dad wanted ME to help with a job. I LOVED to help my dad with jobs. There was no question, I was in. Mom and Dad knew I could do it, and there was no reason for me not to...in all reality I was the most expeditious answer to a rather dire (not to mention odious) problem...but they never forced me. I got to choose. That's the way it's always been with my parents. They provide their support, experience, and advice, but ultimately, I get to choose. This has never been a question, and it might have something to do with that dead cat.

To put the end to a long short story, I climbed right into that hole, dad shining the flashlight the whole way. All I really had to say about it was "Dad, it STINKS down here!" Dad just responded "I know sweetheart, just put that loop around that cat's foot and let's get out of here." So I did. I crawled up to that dead cat, put that loop around it's foot, and crawled my four year old behind back out from under the house. I got to be a hero, and our house didn't smell like road kill anymore. It was a great day.

At the time (I was four, remember) I thought that was about the greatest thing that could have happened. I got to help dad with a job. I was ALWAYS trying to help dad with jobs and it usually ended up with me nearly getting trampeled in the cattle run, getting the four wheeler stuck in a ditch, or something else that would require dad to do more work than he already had cut out for him, so he didn't necessarily have to trust me. Now that I look back on it, I realize what kind of a feat the whole thing was for a four year old. A lot of things could have happened...I could have flat out refused (you might have too if you had seen what the underneath of that house looked like)...I could have crawled up in there, gotten scared and frozen, which would have been a serious problem seeing as how there wouldn't have been much of a way for anyone to get out me OR the cat...I could have gotten in there, decided it wasn't my bag, and turned tail and told dad to get the cat himself. All are fairly viable options and reactions for a four year old.

The thing of it is, I think the way I live now has a lot to do with that cat; independent and stubborn to a fault, implicity trusting of my parent's judgment and guidance, willing to go out on the occasional limb, and adventurous, despite usually wanting at least an informed idea of what said adventure might entail (I was cautious, even at four). Oh, and a sugar fiend (did I mention the cupcake?). It would be nice, of course, if I could blame my less admirable character traits on said feline; my inherent need for control, obsessive compulsive tendencies, and quarterly relationship (or lack thereof) related breakdowns...just to name a few. Unfortunately, we can't pin every last quirk on a definitive moment in time. The sugar habit does, however, still get blamed on the cat...when it's convenient at least.

Maybe you think I'm making light of the truly defining moments in peoples lives; the moments of clarity that make them change course, see the light, and blossom into the fully developed individuals they are today. You should know I am not. All I can say is that for me, the knowledge of who I was, what I could do, and exactly what I needed to achieve my goal crystallized in a very real way in my four year old mind as I stared into a dark hole, and set my sightes on a very dead cat.

*A note about the wedding, the actual impetus for this post...The photos are coming soon, since I know that's the only reason most of you look at this thing anyway.

7 comments:

Rachel, Craig, & Caleb said...

That was a great story! It was fun having you just down the hall and in all my classes freshman year. I kind of miss those days. Sounds like life is great for you. Hope things keep going well!

Mike and Emily said...

babe. love that story. that and the damn hammer are my favorites. love you.

JD said...

a rotting cat corpse induces OCD tendencies?? who knew?

Jane said...

I suppose being friends with me hasn't helped the sugar habit at all...whoops:) Great blog post!

Elise said...

love the story. you crack me up.

NessaAnn said...

Darn it! Emily beat me to it! Since you've shared the cat story, you need to talk about Grandpa helping you develop your 4 letter word vocabulary!

That was nice though. I love your stories. - M

MomAlicia said...

You are marvelous Baby-Girl. I'm so proud of you.