We probably remember them as greater than they are, because we are certainly shaped by a lifetime of subtle influences. And maybe even more than that, we are probably shaped by the basic temperament, as defined by our inherited brain chemistry, with which we are born. But I remember certain influences as being the most significant ones that shaped me.
Hearing my mother praise the community services of a local woman who volunteered for every this and that and baked and sewed and gave to every charity, I thought even as a child that I wanted to be good and kind and do things for other people like this woman. I was surprised in later years to learn that my mother did not actually like her all that much, and in fact, often found her annoying and aggravating! But still, did that in any way diminish her service to the community and the individuals in need? Not to me, and I often find myself inspired to do-gooderness by some remembered image of her bouncing into the church basement with a covered cake pan in each hand and sending someones child out the the car for more tins and dishes and casseroles.
Watching Dr. Seuss's The Lorax on television certainly was not the first I was introduced to environmental concepts, for our agricultural state taught us in science class from the very beginning about conservation of soil and water. Yet, the first I remember of becoming really riled up and motivated to DO SOMETHING about keeping nature natural was from the feelings of loss and then of power at being able to FIX THINGS that I got from that story. Nature needed ME to protect and preserve her!
Surely she was not the first or the only woman to participate in farming, but I remember my parents talking about her as though she were some rare and exotic creature because she didn't stay in the house in a supporting role but got out there and drove the tractors and the trucks. She went out to the barn morning and evening to do the chores. She helped the calves get born and actually did the artificial insemination! My one chance to steal a look at her as I invented reasons to pass up and down the hallway past the kitchen doorway was when the flying club met at our house. Not only did she farm like a man, but she was the only woman member of the local flying club, whose members shared interest in a couple small planes and jointly hired the services of a flight instructor. She was beautiful to me and her very face exuded power and I wanted that. No rules were going to tell me what a woman could and could not do just because of her gender.
Even as the conversations of parents and neighbors reflected a general suspicion of motives, I listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio and just KNEW that the color of a person's skin should not be cause to treated them poorly, just KNEW that people were people no matter the color of their skin or the language they spoke or the type of clothing they wore or what they believed. Dr. King just made sense to me and it made me MAD that some people used those outward physical signs as reasons to treat other people badly. I found such racism to be especially counter to the 'love one another' message I was getting from the Lutheran preacher and my Sunday School teachers. I vowed to not ever treat anyone differently due to the color of their skin, and to fight for equality as soon as I got old enough to DO something besides sit on the floor and listen to the radio about it.
Never content to leave well enough alone, I often ponder my motives and the reasons I do the deeds I do and think the thoughts I think. I look back through my history for the influences that challenged or inspired or motivated me. Such reviewing is good for us. What if we look back and discover that some influence is not in sync with the values we now have? We should become aware of the power and effect of that influence and work to negate it. But if we look back and find people and personalities that are important and meaningful to us, we can rededicate ourselves to the values and actions embodied by those influences, and purposefully work to be more, do more, become more like them.