“It is not who I am, but what I do that defines me.”
I first heard this quote from Christian Bale, who was playing Batman in the movie Batman Begins (worse than the two movies that follow it, in my opinion). I don’t know whether or not the movie was the origin of the quote, if a Batman comic was, or if it came from an outside source. Whatever the case, I sincerely hope that it isn’t entirely true. Of course, what you do is extremely important- in a sense, your actions form people’s perception of you, and if you have emotions, other peoples’ perception of you plays a (sometimes unnaturally) large role in forming your identity. In my case, I want my identity to be based off of the fact that I think I am an honest, kind-hearted person, because I am fearful that my human flaws shine brighter than I’ve ever hoped that they would.
I was born in Hazel Crest, Illinois, and lived the first four years of my life in Homewood. I obviously don’t remember all that much about the first few years of my life, but there are some things that stand out. My family’s house had windows that covered almost the entire front of the structure. I loved to pick raspberries from the garden in our backyard. I was friends with an older couple across the street, Barb and George, who introduced me to something for which I still have a strange affinity to today: moss.
Sometime either before or after my sister was born (I’m not quite positive on the dates- obviously, I was a little young to really understand them- but I think it was after), our family moved to Clarendon Hills, Illinois, where we still reside today. It is, I believe, one of the most tight-knit communities in the state, and also happens to be one of the richest. Because of that, as I entered school, I was growing into a very well-endowed child. Genetics gifted me with my mother’s proficiency with words and my father’s love for numbers (things I hope I’ve kept, considering I’m writing this blog post from my dorm room at a business school); I excelled in school, and was sometimes pulled out of regular class to do harder activities. My family showered me with anything that I could possibly want and more. I developed a small, tight-knit group of friends, and we did everything together- playing sports, going out to lunch, playing at recess. My best friend Jimmy and I even wrote a book, called “The Enormous Tomato” (it was ten pages and had numerous spelling errors- first grade writing for you).
In comparison to much of the world today, I remain EXTREMELY well-endowed, something for which I do not give enough thanks for. The downside of that, though, was that I was relatively shielded from reality. 9/11 looked like a rocket taking off to me, and I never realized its true implication until I got older. With that increase in age came in increase in self-awareness; my carelessness went away, and the reality of the tough, unforgiving world that we live in started to hit me.
There were smaller things: I blew my arm out, and my dream of being a baseball player ended. My best friend moved to Peoria, about three hours south of Clarendon Hills, when we were in the fourth grade. I fell back towards the pack in academics. My sister, who, like me, was growing into herself, was taking away some of the attention I was receiving from my parents.
There were bigger things: the realization of the true scope of 9/11. My withdrawing into myself, which shrunk my friend circle and made me one of the quiet and weird ones. Before my freshman year of high school, my dad announced that we would have to move from our house, while my mom revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
All of those things, and many more, led to the start of a time in my life when I really began to question my purpose. I was living a near perfect life, with many different things to pursue and the full support of those around me, but I couldn’t really find anything that really felt like it had any substantial worth, that made me feel like I really had a purpose.
Settling into high school allowed that feeling to dissipate a little bit. I made the freshman soccer team, which was filled with countless talented players (Two Division I soccer players and three Division III players, and a few others that could have made it if they really wanted to), and yet I still got significant playing time during a season in which we only lost one game (and won 23, if my mind serves me correctly). I got involved in a few clubs- Athletes Committed to Excellence and Best Buddies- and worked for the school newsmagazine. I made more friends than I thought I would ever have, people from so many walks of life that were all so humble, and so kind. One of those people was a girl that I would be fortunate enough to call my girlfriend- the idea of having someone like me was scary at first, considering I didn’t expect to have a real girlfriend until I was in my 20’s, but our relationship blossomed until it was close to being the core of my life.
My senior year, things unraveled quickly. I didn’t make the varsity soccer team as a senior, something I would love to have done, considering that the team went on a surprising run in the playoffs to win the team’s first state title since the 1970’s. I was behind in applying for colleges. The thing that brought me to my knees, though, was the breakup with my girlfriend, which happened a week into the school year. It absolutely devastated me. I became desperate, desperate for closure, for confirmation that I wasn’t a complete jerk. But I didn’t get it. My behavior became more and more erratic- I even got a detention, something that, as people that knew me prior to this incident, was unthinkable for a person like myself. As my downward spiral became more and more steep, I said and did things that were enormously out of character, things that I immensely regret to this day. I tried to apologize to no avail (and still wish I could today)- the damage was done. I moved on from my high school and had to complete my classes outside of it, away from my friends, many of whom lost all the respect they had for me. It drove me to a deep, dark depression, something that, for a person in my position, with my hope and opportunity, was almost beyond unfathomable.
The next couple months were absolute hell. I went to see countless therapists that weren’t helpful and multiple doctors that prescribed me medications that didn’t work. I couldn’t play sports, barely interacted with my friends- or, what friends I had left- and some of the people around me didn’t believe that I was really trying hard enough to get better. My heart felt empty, and I think that if my heart was stronger than my head, I wouldn’t be writing this today.
At that point, I faced two paths- a path that continued leading me to darkness and despair, or a path that brought me back on track to the life that I was living before. Luckily, though, I was able to gather my wits and get my shit together. I started working unbelievably hard, trying to catch up on work that I had missed when I was in my funk. I started going into overdrive for college applications, making that everything was as perfect as it possibly could be for the schools I was looking in to. I re-established a connection with my travel soccer team and my youth group, allowing me to put myself back into a social setting, so that I didn’t have to be so down over my lack of friends. I also got a job, which not only gave me some good spending money for school, but also gave me a sense of purpose, that I was actually doing something for other people that was worth my time. I became enamored with a beautiful girl who I call my girlfriend to this day, despite our distance from each other.
My depression is far from gone, and my regret over what I have done might remain forever, because I never believed that I was capable of what I did. I have many days where I question my purpose- why I’m at school, why my girlfriend dates me, why my friends likes me- but being able to think of how fortunate I am, to be doing what I’m doing and to know who (and what) I know, gives me a light at the end of the tunnel. It pulls me out of the past and allows me to focus: I have a future. A future with high expectations. Expectations that I am wholly dedicated to exceeding.