Beginning when we are nestled in the comfort of our mother's womb and continuing into our early infancy, we quickly identify our culinary preferences; our likes and dislikes. As a child, I refused to eat the popular American version of Swiss cheese because I labeled it defective due to its gaping holes, or eyes, as appropriately named by cheese makers. I never imagined the many legendary tales that described how the holes were created, whether evidentiary based or fictional. My rationale was quite simple; the cheese was missing all of its parts, therefore, in my eyes, it was imperfect and unwanted.
As teenagers, my sister and I were extremely close, and oftentimes, numerous people referred to us as twins despite our nearly three year age difference. Recently, I stumbled upon a bonding exercise, where siblings disclose daily responses to shared questions. Although it began in jest, it has quickly become a daily ritual for my sister and me, as we enter Day 41. In our exchange, we revisit hysterically funny moments and learn more about each other, however, we also vulnerably expose our aspirations, lingering hurt, and unspoken insecurities. Secrets have unfolded, as we have verbalized our inner thoughts, some known, but many others that were unknown. Previously, while reading or in some cases, anxiously waiting for a response, I mentally prepared myself to learn my sister's opinion of my most annoying habit, if our parents had a favorite kid, or the worst fight we ever had.
I vividly recalled the details of our worst fight ever, whereas my sister answered with relative indifference. For her, the sum of all of its parts were more significant, although I wanted to exercise creative expression and narrow our responses to a single event. Unknowingly, I had approached that question with great trepidation and had already imagined her answer, as well as my rebuttal, a necessary safeguard for my ego. As we explored the question in greater detail, we surfaced a hidden truth for many disagreements followed by rotating periods of disregard. During our discussion, she reminded me that as individuals, we have different coping mechanisms and must permit ourselves, as well as, others to move ahead at the pace set by the individual.
Immediately, I experienced regret and sorrow for all of the unkind words expressed during a bout of anger, when perhaps I simply misunderstood the intent. My words have served as defensive weapons to protect myself at the expense of others, with increased ferocity after every oral victory gained in defeat to satisfy my intrinsic motivation to win at all costs. In my moment of reflection, I envisioned Swiss cheese and recognized that the different perspectives of our shared history, also known as our memories, are largely guided by our eyes or holes; the lasting imprints of our past hurts and defeats. Those hurtful words of my past continue to live in a subdued state within me and are easily triggered with a phrase, song, physiological stressor, or any other connection medium between past and present. As I embrace all experiences encountered during my walk in the journey of life, my holes slowly enlarge with each disappointment or fragmented relationship.
With Swiss cheese, larger eyes, or holes, imply stronger flavor because the cheese has endured longer fermentation processes and possibly prolonged exposure to bacteria. Similarly, my holes, which I previously viewed as imperfect blemishes of an imperfect person, are the invisible forces that power my fortitude. Like cheese, my individual fermentation processes through every trial were the catalysts to develop my personal growth, which was only feasible, after a breakdown of my former self, in order to cultivate a more resilient, confident, and caring person. Those prior words or negative circumstances that plummeted my self-esteem were the calisthenics to effectively condition and prepare my renewed self into my personal best. Harsh words leave invisible holes in the souls of their recipients, which in many cases may last for a lifetime. Barring few exceptions, we often do not have visibility to the damages that we create with hurtful words spoken during moments of anger. Now, I am slower to anger and judiciously measure the impact of my words beforehand, in order to leave fewer holes in my wake. During my growth years, I disregarded holes in both cheese and people, and quickly categorized them as imperfect and unwanted. Now, as a lifelong student of the culinary arts, I wisely understand that those same holes represent an approval seal for the quality assurance of the fermentation process. As a testament to the finished process, the larger holes represent a greater endurance to its characteristics, resulting in a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor.
Empathy truly allows us to see the world through a different set of lenses. Without open conversation with my sister, as part of our bonding experiment, I would have remained heedless to the potency of my voice inclusive of the holes left behind. While I remain grateful for all of the lessons that I have learned throughout my journey to earn my holes, I pledge to remain mindful of the power in my words. With my voice, I seek to uplift, listen to understand, share to relate, and prevail over my emotions in humble gratitude for the positive voices, which have echoed in my ear throughout my life to mute all other sounds. Take the challenge and be an inspirational voice that dulls the negative sounds for someone else.