For the past eight years, the same memory has haunted me.
I was almost seven years old—my birthday was that week. I had just arrived in the Dominican Republic, eager to begin exploring a country completely unfamiliar to my eyes. As I anxiously waited in line to get our passports checked, I was momentarily distracted by some live music sung by a man and his drums in charming Spanish cadences.
Looking around and enjoying the tunes, I stared up at the blonde woman in front of me who was just letting words fall right out of her mouth as she glanced around with her friends.
“What language are they even speaking? Blah, blah, blah.”
I can still remember the women’s voice today. I can still remember the anger boiling inside of me at the age of six. Worst of all, I can remember how I stood there in shock, saying absolutely nothing.
As a fifteen-year-old, I still slump my head on the table and sigh when I think about how I could have said so many things in that moment. Though they would have almost certainly had zero impact on the woman, I can’t help but think that if I did sputter a few sour words—and tried to show that I would not tolerate discriminatory behavior—I would have at least attempted to right a wrong.
Though I have many regrets in life, as all human beings do, I particularly catch my fingers on injustice when brushing the surface of the history of my decisions. Once I conjure the memory, I can’t help but let my mind tug on the regretful nail; unfortunately, just thinking about the problem doesn’t make it any better, and the nail stays firmly embedded in my “worst decisions” memory sector.
Thankfully, while I have grown in physical aspects since then, I have also grown mentally. Though it did not happen as noticeably or quickly, I have found the values that I hold closest to my heart and live my life based upon them, even if I am unaware of it at times. Instead of fading out into the background when I see an unjust situation, I feel myself clarify and wipe the fog away—with my newfound clarity, I can make a decision that I will not regret—or regret less—unlike my earlier decisions of staying silent.
Though my vision for the kind of person I want to be has been further defined, I am still nearsighted in how I feel immediately afterward—the backlash of my outspokenness leaves me confused and anxious. I can’t help wondering if I said the right thing or how people will think of me after watching my defiance.
However, this too is growth. Instead of focusing on whether I should have said something, I am focusing on what I said. Now, I am developing how I present an idea and phrase my arguments, and how I can expect pushback and handle it maturely. Thus, I’m past the first crucial step, the initialization my six-year-old self wasn’t ready for; I am slowly tugging the nails from my mind and sealing the holes with my confidence caulk.
I am always looking to perfect myself, especially in things that I care about. As my mind matures further still, I can acknowledge my progress and look further into the future. All the while, my past regrets will be sublimating and recondensing into resources to take on the world as the person I strive to be.