I wish I could recall where I learned the phrase, this idea that one’s personality is not just birth and place and time and opportunity, but also a construct of unseen, inscrutable influences. Non-fixed, perhaps with some central elements, and definitely with strong strands reaching back to lineage, out to family, out to friends, loves, and chance meetings of heart or intellect, forward to those who come next. For me, it’s not always obvious who architects of my personality are, until I lose one.
Around the time that I met Kirsten Nordt in high school, a favorite family member had warned me away from the path I was tripping down –me: a slightly boyish girl who loved animals, who loved words and books, who unwisely made friends with white kids. I have no doubt that my family member’s desire was for me to thrive, but what I remember most were words that tore at what I was trying to build. His and my truths were not the same, and one of my truths was Kirsten.
Far taller than me, paler, red-haired, with a laugh that invited. Still strangers to one another, we stood in a narrow hall while volunteering as ushers for a high school play and Kirsten joyfully punched my shoulder hard enough to hurt. Friends from that moment forward, she never harmed me the way my family member feared.
When a person sees and can articulate what you are worth, you become that worth. I have learned that people are reflections of one another. Kirsten reflected humor, artistry, generosity, and thoughtfulness. I reflected my budding feminism, curiosity, silly gifts purchased from toy shops, and word-craft. She introduced me to what today remain some of my favorite media, from Bjork to the Wishbone television show to the Griffin & Sabine novel trilogy.
From Kirsten I learned how to respect and celebrate faith, even one I did not share. We shared a love of picture books and the natural world. I spun college and post-college experiences into letters and cards, sailed them across the miles. She became Kirsten Quatela, mother of two and inspired photographer in Portland, OR. I remained Phoebe Sinclair, writer and wanderer, partnered and thriving in Boston, MA. We inspired one another to continue to reach out, by letter, holiday card, art-gift, quick note typed into a blinking message field.
All ends. That is not a choice, but a reality and what I did not expect, I must still accept. In one of our last correspondences, I expressed love and concern, and Kirsten responded: “I appreciate you reaching out and your kind words. Life took an unexpected turn a year ago, but I am walking forward and taking what I can from it to be the best Kirsten I can be.”
That she was.