A few years ago, a college basketball player in March Madness missed two free throws in the waning seconds of a close game. His team lost the game. The player blamed himself for the defeat. The press, and the player, described those missed shots as his “defining moment” in the sport. Forgotten were the successful free throws in the past, the blocked shots, the scored baskets. It came down to two shots. The player never performed to the same level again. He defined himself as the player who lost the game, who missed the free throws.
What is a defining moment? We experience several throughout our lives. They are moments in time where through experience, profound change is possible. The experiences are individual; what becomes a defining moment for one may not impact another. The can be either positive or negative: graduating high school, becoming a parent, going to jail, winning the lottery, surviving cancer. A company of new Marines march proudly across the parade deck at Parris Island. It is graduation day, a public acknowledgment of the defining moment of becoming a Marine.
Often, there is a public, or outside labeling, of a defining moment. This can serve to bring the community together for celebration, if positive,or support in a tragedy. I think of the times of natural disasters and how to country comes together, if briefly, to support the survivors. However, at times, this outside labeling can serve to bring further harm. The survivor of sexual assault faces the horror of the crime,then the stigmatization of being a victim. Society blames her. How she dressed, if she consumed alcohol, did she resist; her actions her examined and questioned. Often, she is accused of lying, especially in a military setting. Defining moment? A liar? A victim? A whore? Guilty?
In thinking about defining moments in my life, three in particular stand out. Marine Corps boot camp is a life changing event. This was more a series of moments, generally involving a loud Drill Instructor, an impossible task, and/ or a high place. Did I ever mention I hate heights? Not anymore. I had to face that fear to succeed and I did.
After I was assaulted in the Marines, I accepted the story of the perpetrator. No one would believe me. After all, he was a well respected Senior NCO. I was a junior NCO, who was isolated and seen as barely average. Never mind that I was honor graduate from Corporal Leadership School. So, I stayed quiet until my end of tour discharge. I never reported the assault in the Marines. I only started talking about it 7 years later. People believed me. In the years since then, I have done a tremendous amount of healing and growth. I no longer believe the majority of his lies. Was this a defining moment? Unfortunately, yes. It changed the course of my life for many years. Did it ruin my life? No. I chose to grow instead.
On April 25, 2011, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury in a car accident. My life changed. A common thread weaving forward from the assault is “broken.” However, other parts definition weaves into the pattern as well: strong, determined, confident. The brain injury is a defining moment. The Army Reserve found me unfit medically for continued service and I will soon be medically retired. I have not run a marathon since my injury. There have been many changes in my life since. However, I choose to continue to live within the boundaries. I run several days a
week and am training for a half marathon. Life means living.
What I have discovered about defining moments is they are road signs marking the journey of life. Some life changes are more profound than others. Pursue life.