My cousin Megan was the most annoying being my eleven years old self had encountered. At six she was a scrawny looking firecracker; at ten a full blown typhoon. Having spent a considerable part of my teenage years in a boarding school far from home, I had to make do with spending short holidays with my extended family. It was on one such visit that I met Megan in her glorious fury.
My Aunt had just been delivered of the cutest baby girl, and requested that I helped babysit; that for me meant sliding out of my comfortable shell and integrating–introversion and babysitting don’t exactly blend well.
Oh I tried. I laboured as much as I could to dwell with these kids, and would have succeeded but for one glitch: my cousin was an imp. She was disrespectful to elders, stubborn, hard headed, hot tempered….she was such a brat. Everyone but her mother lacked patience for her. For some reason being the oldest of the kids at the time, she had a lot of her anger directed towards me. It was puzzling. I hadn’t done a thing to this child, and yet it seemed she despised me for just being present.
During her brawls, she’d yell about how she was in her fathers’ house, and why I needed to go to mine. I hated it. I hated it a lot. But that girl was untouchable, and I detested confrontations–I still do. So I did what came naturally to me: I avoided her like the devil himself, and when she found a way to get on my nerves, I’d laugh because I was hell bent on denying her the pleasure of knowing I was super mad.
This went on for years. On and off. I left secondary school and got into the university and nothing changed. She seemed to get only better at annoying everyone.
One day I went visiting as always. My aunt had requested I come spend the weekend because she needed help around the house. I had gone from being cousin and babysitter, to big sister, cousin and babysitter. The younger ones would spend the night in my room throughout the duration of my stay, unless their dad intervened. Me, my heart and bed was big enough to accommodate anyone.
During this last visit, I began to notice changes in Megan. She was less contrary, more jovial, carefree, I daresay respectful. It seemed like the imp I knew had grown into a sane woman. The change was surprising.
Whenever I had to cook, she’d come to the kitchen and keep me company without being egged on. You know how it is for us girls, always wanting someone to yell at us to come sit and learn how to cook? Well, I didn’t have to do any of that. And she wasn’t just sitting, she was also helping; pounding when asked to, washing up the dishes and all that. It was all so exciting. I felt like I finally had a cousin.
So after a while I asked her what the secret to this miraculous change was; had someone taken her for a deliverance session? She laughed and said, “My mom called me into her room one night, and told me to be useful to myself. I decided it was time to respect myself”. I was puzzled; couldn’t make sense how the simple words of her mother could have made so much difference, when everyone had talked and yelled for years–including her mom–without any results.
Now that I think about it though, I see that was the most important thing she needed to hear. She had come to a point in her life where she realized that her attitude wasn’t hurting anyone but herself. She understood that literally everyone save her mother had lost hope in ever living to see a different Megan. I’m quite willing to stake my loaf of bread that her mother never stopped praying for her. And when the change came, all it took was an awareness of her shortcomings and a willingness to love and open herself to something different, something new.
And so I watch this blossoming woman child. I listen to her tell me about the boys she likes; prep her for social day at school–hair, dress, make up, the works; guide her through her confusion about her gifts, school choices, her future; take her through her homework and let her tell me how much of an awesome teacher I am. And still every now and again, I look at her and am astounded at the rate of growth and change.
In all of this, I am given a reason to believe more everyday in the ability of people to change. It doesn’t matter if Leopards never change spots, or Zebras never lose their stripes; they were originally designed that way. But people weren’t. We are designed with goodness and love and respect; and no matter how much dirt and filth piles on top of it, it never buries us deep enough that digging our way out is impossible. All we need is a little self awareness, faith, prayers and people who love us to keep our hands steady while we dig.