to be or not to be worldly-wise

My follow-up post may not be what you were expecting.

We wrote letters for a summer. Dated for roughly three years. We loved each other much longer than that, but, ultimately, he was meant to be a priest and I, to be a writer and meet Jon.

I love Jon.

So, no. This post isn’t about childhood sweethearts and love ever after. Rather, it’s about that 14-year-old and her reputation for being a “goodie-goodie” — a name that has stuck with her for many years.

·          ·          ·

I went to a tiny Christian school from kindergarten through 12th grade. At the time of my high school graduation, my class was the school’s largest graduating class to date. My class had sixteen students. From my tiny private school, I went to a private Christian university — Southern Adventist University — located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Southern had roughly 2,000 students and was known for being conservative. Rules included things like: dorm curfew at 10 p.m., drinking and smoking and wearing jewelry were not allowed, and attendance at church and worship services was required.

Did I mention it was “conservative”?

It was a very safe environment — one parents could feel very comfortable sending their children to. And, overall, it was a great school. My favorite professor of all time was the English chair there for many years.

But . . .

On Southern's campus

On Southern’s campus

It was after a work Christmas party — my first job was as a copywriter for a publishing company in Chattanooga — when it became very apparent just how sheltered I’d been. No. I didn’t wake up with a hangover next to a stranger. Rather, I had no idea what to order in the first place. A group of us were at a restaurant, and, while my coworkers were ordering their favorite beverage, I stared at the menu, bewildered. A cosmopolitan? What was that? A lager? An ale? Maybe I should try a martini?

My friends were agog when they realized I’d never tasted much alcohol.

I’d also never been out clubbing or partying.

Never learned to dance.

Never eaten much meat.

Never had sex.

I was a “goodie-goodie.”

Over the years, I have both appreciated and resented my sheltered upbringing. On the one hand, it was a safe place to learn and grow and create a value system with which to handle the “big bad world”; on the other . . . How can you truly know what you believe and why you believe it until you are confronted with the “big bad world”? Further, how can you “spread the Word,” as I was taught growing up, when you spend your life alienating those who are different from you? There have been multiple times I’ve encountered something I’ve never heard of before — a band name, an incidence in time, a popular term, a slang phrase, and so on — and been like, “Huh?” and felt the fool.

I was a fool.

Because the big bad world is out there. You’re going to to hit it head-on at some point. These days you can’t even sign out of your email without being bombarded with mankind’s latest horrific acts against itself. And is it better to hit this world with a little bit of worldly-wiseness? Or is it better to be like I was? “Five-knuckle shuffle? Twerking? What’s that?!”

18 thoughts

  1. Well…you were right! Ha ha!

    But you know, I fully get your post. Every parent wants their child to be safe and not face danger. Or see them go through hard times. But you can not hide them forever from the world. And as you stated from a Christian perspective; how can they be a shining beacon when no one sees them shine? It is like building a grand lighthouse and putting it up in the Arctic circle.

    When I was going through my periods of messing up, I knew at times that what I was doing was not right. If a good enough foundation is laid, the odds are better that a person will navigate turbulent times. It is all up to the individual though.

    My next door neighbors are great followers of the word of Christ. They work in private schools and one was the assistant principal. A few of their children turned to drugs and one passed away due to a complication with her heart after giving birth to a son. She was also abusing drugs and gave birth to her child right out of high school. I do not blame the parents or the schools or churches they went to. You can try to protect your children but sometimes sadly they do not get the picture.

    • All true words, Steve. I think a fine balance between sheltering and over-protecting must be established. I know plenty of sheltered kids like myself who went off the deep end. I’m planning to write a post here soon about why I did not — despite growing up in a “bubble,” my parents were actually pretty cool.

      I believe you’re right, though. If you get that balance and a good foundation is laid, then, yeah, the individual has a good chance of turning out all right.

      It’s Friday!!

  2. I have lived both sides of this coin Jess. I was at a Catholic school from grades 1-8, then thrown to the sharks in a public high school. Bad choices were made, bad habits formed, and the downward slide began. Things took a very life changing turn in my mid twenties and since then my life has been both hard yet satisfying. I wish I could go back and change only ONE thing. My education. But I would not trade ANYTHING I learned of real life for anything I could learn in a book. Just wish I had a better balance of both is all. The real world is a shocking and dangerous place for those unprepared for it’s surprises. It seems to me that you have a much better awareness these days and I am glad for that. Be well my friend.

    • “The real world is a shocking and dangerous place for those unprepared for it’s surprises.” True that. I also know what you mean about learning things in the real world as opposed to a book. That is especially true when it comes to interactions with our fellow man, does it not?… When you say you’d change your education, do you mean you’d change that you attended either public or private school? Sometimes I’ve wished I’d attended a different college, but then again… That part of my life is what has made me who I am, so, in the end, I wouldn’t go back and change it, after all.

      Hope your weekend is off to a great start!!

      • I wouldn’t change the schools I attended, but rather my dedication to my education. I was not a good student and my tailspin began very early on in my high school years. So while I would not change any of the hard lessons I learned, I do wish I had done better in school and taken it further. Hope you are having a good weekend. I am riding again and starting to get a stoke for it again. Be well my friend.

  3. It’s an interesting question you pose here. I look at it a little differently than you. Where you pose it as how being sheltered may affect your ability to “adjust” once you’re thrown out into the big, bad world, I view it this way. Why do we have to be in such a rush? Why must our children be exposed to things that force them to grow up? Or not, depending on the child. I wish we could come up with a way to preserve and enjoy the innocence of childhood longer than we do these days. Children are exposed to things they just don’t need to be exposed to all because we’re either too lazy to stop it or because … well, that’s what life is like, so they’re gonna have to learn it eventually anyway. Nah, I’d prefer that we were able to preserve their innocence for a bit longer. Sadly, it just doesn’t work that way because … yep, it’s a big, bad world out there and we lose the fight to keep that innocence.

    • I see what you mean, friend. And, in the end, as I look at how I’ll do things when/if I become a parent… I know I’ll try to shelter my kids, too. The world is full of so many bad things. What’s the rush? My childhood “bubble” also allowed me to develop a strong moral compass, which is important.

      On the other hand… I just don’t know if I want my kids to be quite as naive as I was at 24. There’s a balance there we all must strive for.

      Hope your weekend is off to a great start!

  4. Such an interesting question you asked there at the end, how can we truly know what we truly believe in and ourselves when we haven’t experienced the bad, or all there is out there. I sympathise with your sheltered upbringing. I was brought up that way too – no drinking, no smoking, no sex. I wasn’t even allowed to work casually in my uni days. My parents protested to me working when I went on to do my Masters.

    Like you, being sheltered was something I appreciated and resented. Appreciated because I, well, to put it simply “didn’t go off the rails”. Resented because I think it has impacted on my confidence. But if I had to chose, I’d go with appreciative because in many ways, being sheltered has taught be to observe and question more once I get a taste of the real world – or be more cautious about what’s out there.

    Hope you had a good week, and have a good weekend :)

    • Glad to hear about our shared experiences, Mabel. And I agree with you about how growing up sheltered can teach people to observe, question, and know where I stand in the “real world.” I don’t think I ever resented my parents role in keeping me sheltered. They actually allowed me a lot of freedom within my bubble, which I appreciated. I simply resented feeling naive about things everyone in the outside world seemed to know already. I don’t like feeling like the simpleton in a group.

      Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts! Hope you have a good weekend, too!!

      • Totally agree. No one likes to feel left out of the loop. No one likes to feel left behind and fear they can’t catch up. Not knowing something or a lot of things makes it hard to stay in a conversation sometimes. Probably that’s why I am always the one in the corner alone at the few parties I’ve been too.

        Knowing more can be an asset. Then again, it takes time to learn ;)

  5. Yeah, there is the big bad world is out there and it can be a shock if you’ve been somewhat sheltered (my rural hometown did it for me), but it also gives us something special to draw fro as well. The world can be intimidating when there is no longer this “safety blanket” of what you are comfortable with, but that sure can zap confidence and it can be confusing to figure out just where you may fit into the brave new world…

    And then looking behind you, you can see the benefits of such an upbringing ~ great family & friends. With all this behind you, you can do just about anything because if you fail they are all there to catch you, dust you off so you can go after it again. You end up realizing that are more worldly than you ever could have imagined…just as your Taiwan and Asian sojourns taught you :-)

    • You are right, Randall. There are HUGE benefits to the bubble I grew up in. It has made me who I am, and, in the end, I wouldn’t trade it for the opposite. I think the Taiwan and Asian sojourns are a different kind of worldly, though… A far better kind… And gaaahh!! One of my friends who still lives in Taiwan just posted pictures of her CNY trip to Sri Lanka. So envious!! It’s not good to be jealous, but someday, somehow… I just don’t want to settle for ordinary.

      Hope you’re in the middle of a great weekend!

      • The jealousy is just ‘positive envy’ ~ and that means you will be on your way to such dreams at some point…how, who knows but it will happen, just be ready for it. :-)

  6. My last Love grew up a 7th Day Adventist. LOL!

    I have loved deeply & still love four women in my life…besides my Mom of course. Different sort of love there. :-P
    Me and my 7th Day Adventist (now retired/excommunicated from that faith, or both!) still talk and talk like Soul Mates, cuz there’s nothing either of us (or anyone) can do to change what the Universe makes. Impossible, right? There’s the “big _____ world” you speak of.

    I grew up & was taught a different world-view: one of compassion, patience, respect, honor, and yes, many more boundless expressions of humanity….or love. Why be “in AND of the world”???? So that you can relate, communicate, and empathize. Those are the first methods of connection! Along the way you learn to manage it via the pain & the joy. :-)

    Ever heard of Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, The Invitation? If not, read it.

    Thank you for sharing this, your heart Jess!

  7. Your story makes me think about how different it is to know about something vs actually experiencing it. In that regard, I think a lot of us are sheltered! Despite feeling sheltered, it sounds like your parents did a great job of raising someone who is open minded and interested in understanding all different aspects of the world!

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