I developed a disdain for all people in my early years of life. Maybe disdain is too harsh of a word, but from an early age, I was life’s greatest skeptic. I can identify the factors of my youthful cynicism: seeing a man get tased the first day my family moved into our new house, the multiple shootings on our street, my parents’ herculean efforts to calm my siblings and me with the lie that the gunshots outside are just fireworks. The constant anxiety of my childhood exhausted me, and I’m certain it exhausted my parents as well. The late nights, tear-filled from imagining my mother kidnapped or worse, probably took a toll on my father after a while, who bore the brunt of my incessant panics.
“What if she doesn’t come back?” I would sob, cloaked in my dad’s embrace.
“She will, she always does,” my dad always offered his reassurances with a warm smile.
In all reality, the times when my mom was not at home, she was simply teaching a class at Bethel, or running to the grocery store; there was no imminent danger except that, in my mind, her mere presence in the outside world was perilous enough to warrant my attempted intervention. I wanted to herd her back inside, where she was safe and shielded from the evils of mankind. However, I could not stash her inside no matter how hard I begged, and this was a lot for a young girl of six years old to bear.
There was no reasonable explanation for these fearful episodes, other than being witness to violence from a young age. A little more grown up now, I have strong hope for my young cousins, ranging from six to twelve years old, that they can have care-free childhoods. I pray their days are filled with play and they develop an overall faith in the existence of goodness in humanity. While the version of childhood that I picture for them is not too different from how mine went— I played with my siblings and my childhood was by no means joyless— I distinctly remember the awareness of my dear ones’ finite existences regularly polluting my thoughts. There was an arsenal of potential tragedies my mind insisted on playing roulette with on a daily basis. I was not the typical child, frightened by monsters holding residence under my bed; instead, I was acutely attuned to and terrified of the atrocities I knew humans could commit, and this is what kept me up most nights.
On one prolonged evening of laying sleepless in my bed, impatiently awaiting my mother’s return from a class, a sigh of sheer relief escaped me when she walked through my bedroom door. We talked for what felt like hours, about the devil and how he operates, about my fears and what I could do to calm myself. She told me to trust in God and I shook my head “ok,” wanting to believe that God could protect everyone I loved in life from other people, but I was not quite convinced. We ended the late-night chat with a conversation that has remained with me through the years, and sometimes makes me chuckle.
“How much am I supposed to love God?” I asked my mom with expectant, curious ears.
“You’re supposed to love Him more than anything in the world, with your whole heart,” she replied gently.
I took a brief pause then asked, “Do you think God will forgive me if I love you more than I love Him?”
“Yes, I do think he will forgive you,” she responded, a smile planted on her face until she shut my bedroom door behind her.
That night, I thought of the story of Noah: how wonderfully appealing it sounded to me at the time to be drifting on a boat with just my family and some animals, no other people around to inflict harm. What I did not realize at the time, and now can recognize, is that the reason Noah and his family were on the boat was because humans hated each other. Humans were vile, evil, and backstabbing; they broke God’s heart until He was forced to wipe all but the righteous off the face of the earth. In my youth, I was missing the whole point of the story. I was extremely cognizant of the evils of the world; however, I was ignorant to the love that I now deem as necessary to combat that evil seemingly apparent in every aspect of life.
I’ve grown from my wariness of the world and its inhabitants. I’ve grown from hate and unshakeable cynicism into something that I can only hope resembles love. I love people outside of my mom, my family, and my pets. I still do not know the proper way to love God, if there is one, but my best attempts at loving God look like loving the people of the world. My trust in humans will never be restored, but I look to the example of God: how we, the sinners of the world who tase in the streets, shoot our neighbors, and taint childhoods, broke His trust and His heart time and time again; I realize what I need to do, more than anything, is to love.
"The Journey of Learning to Love," written by Jordan Mihut, was proffesor-nominated as an outstanding FYE piece published in the Spring 2022 edition of The Crossings "Author's on the Rise."