Undoubtedly, in every baby boomer’s life, there has been a life-changing moment. Maybe many. But how well do you remember yours? Katharine Giovanni of Wake Forest, North Carolina, remembers like it was yesterday. And it changed her path forever.
It was 1979 and I was 18-years-old. I had just graduated from high school and decided to take a year off before I went to college. My dysfunctional childhood had turned me into an angry teenager with no direction.
So that summer, my father sent me away to a teen version of Outward Bound. Mostly to get me out of the hot city, but I think he hoped it might give me a new perspective on life. Since I had nothing better to do, I agreed and spent the next three months in the woods hiking up mountains, canoeing down rivers, and generally learning how to survive in nature.
In the middle of the program, we were all required to spend three days alone in the woods. I was given a tent and a very small bag of granola, and was placed next to a stream. They checked on me a few times a day, but never spoke.
Something strange happens to you when you are all alone in the woods … eventually you start to think.
The first thing I did was to hang my food up on a tree so the animals wouldn’t get to it.
Then I made sure that my tent was up correctly as I didn’t want to get wet if it rained, which of course it did later that night.
Then, with nothing left to do, I started to think. I reached for the notebook and pen that I was allowed to bring and I began to write.
My brain took me back and I examined everything that had happened to me. The memories made me happy, sad, cheerful, and sometimes angry. Back and forth it went as they flowed through my mind.
Eventually, the garbage that I had been telling myself (and others) for years began to sound really stupid. It’s hard to lie to yourself when you are alone with only your thoughts to keep you company.
By the end of the day, I was finally able to see what I had become, and I didn’t like her at all. She was a spoiled angry brat who was given a hard start in life, certainly, but had a lot going for her in spite of it. I remember crying for what seemed like hours. Then once I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I became angry. I stomped around the woods for a while throwing sticks and rocks and yelled at the air around me.
A few hours later, totally exhausted from the emotion of it all, I found myself on a large boulder by the stream where I had pitched my tent. I can remember watching the sun set behind the mountain I was next to. I stared at the fish in the stream and poked at the water with a stick to pass the time. My mind was numb and I felt empty. I had nowhere to go, no one to talk to, and no destination in mind.
It was just about then that it happened. I’m 55 now and I can still remember the exact moment when my entire world changed.
As I looked into the stream, a slow anger started to boil under my skin. It was like my brain snapped. I decided to show everyone how wrong they were about me. A fierce determination overtook me and I remember thinking that I “would show them all.” I was going to become a lighthouse and an example of how to do it right.
Once back at base camp, I began helping out everywhere I could. The counselors were stunned and all asked me what brought on the change. I just shrugged and told them that I had simply decided to grow up.
Unfortunately, it took another 15 years before I was finally able to become the example, the teacher I had dreamed of being. Why? Mostly because I was young and had a lot to learn. But I’ll never forget the day when it all started.