Hi, my name is Carissa Buys and I currently view my purpose in life to serve as a beacon of hope and love to troubled souls, like myself, who are making their way through this darkening world. Today, I hope to share with you a glimpse into how I came to be the person I am today. To understand who I am, it is important to first understand how I think and process information about myself and the world.”
Imagine focusing on a small rubber duck floating down a fast-moving stream. Not particularly difficult, right? Now imagine trying to focus on the same duck while 1,000 identical ducks float quickly along beside it. That’s how my brain works. It can be overwhelming and debilitating at times. I have a constant stream of information speeding through my brain a million miles a minute. As a result, I am easily distracted, and forgetful. Others may perceive me to be spontaneous, impulsive, or inattentive.
My cognitive challenges can also make it difficult to articulate my thoughts and feelings, especially in writing. I feel so much more than I can say, and I struggle to put my thoughts into words. Words and ideas that come easily in a conversational setting become jumbled and scattered in my mind when I am required to write about them; kind of like throwing a 1,000 piece puzzle into the air and trying to locate the side and corner pieces in my mind. Articulating my thoughts is also made difficult by the fact that I think in colors and sounds, and am daydreaming ninety percent of the time. I also tend to challenge my own ideas and worldview. I love hearing others’ points of view, and learning from different cultures and religions. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know, and how many reasonable viewpoints there are in the world that differ from my own. I can relate to the lyrics in the John Lennon song, Borrowed Time, when he sang: “the more I see, the less I know for sure.”
It’s not that I’m not confident in what I believe or know to be true. It’s just that I don’t see most things in black and white anymore. With the exception of a few moral and religious things I know to be black and white truths, most everything in this world is gray to me. I know the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that I have a literal Heavenly Father who knows and loves me completely. Beyond that, I view most things that others convey as fact to be merely opinions, sometimes well formed, sometimes not. I’ve had jarring experiences that have caused my opinions to become diverse and open-ended. A lot of those learning experiences have come from growing up all over Texas, serving a mission in the heart of inner-city Los Angeles, and living and coping with mental illness. My views about who I am and my purpose in life have developed from a lifetime of experiences, and continue to develop.
Ever since I can remember, I have felt misunderstood. This is undoubtedly related in some ways to my cognitive challenges and resulting communication obstacles. But part of it may also be related to the fact that I have what others sometimes call an “old soul.” While I have always enjoyed many of the same things that my peers enjoy, I also enjoy things many would consider old fashioned or “too grown up.” For example, when it comes to taste in music, I enjoyed most of the same popular entertainers and songs on the radio that friends liked when I was growing up, but I was just as likely to be drawn to such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, various native Hawaiian performers, and my all-time favorite band, the Beatles.
My life started as the stereotypical Mormon baby: I was born in Provo, Utah, to LDS parents living in married student housing at Brigham Young University. My dad was just finishing law school and had landed his first legal job as a Judicial Law Clerk with a Federal Judge on the southernmost border of Texas and Mexico. I don’t claim Utah or Provo as home because I lived there for about three months and, naturally, have no memories from that time.
My family moved several time during my childhood because of my dad’s different jobs. After living in McAllen for two years, my dad got a job with a different Federal Judge and we moved to the town of Beaumont in East Texas, where I attended a Catholic preschool. About two years later, when I was four years old, my dad got a job at a large law firm and we moved again, that time to a suburb outside of Houston. That is where I started elementary school. When I was around ten years old, my dad became a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice and we moved to northeast Texas, just north of Dallas, where my parents currently reside.
As I said, I have always had a very strong will, even from when I was a toddler. I always stood up for myself and my viewpoints whether with my parents, older brother or others. If I didn’t want to do something that my parents told me to do, I would take a punishment rather than do that thing. I would make my family laugh while I was growing up, sometimes unintentionally. I apparently had little patience for telephone conversations that lasted longer than a minute or two. So, when I would reach that time limit upon talking with a grandparent or other loved one on the phone, I would abruptly end the conversation by saying “love you, miss you, bye,” and then just walk away from the phone. I was an avid reader, I read the first Harry Potter book when I was five years old because I wanted to read the book before the movie came out. I was a gifted and smart student, though I struggled a lot with organization and keeping track of assignments. It was not uncommon for my teachers to tell my parents that I had not turned in homework for the past couple of weeks, and then a search would reveal the missing papers – usually completed – jammed in the back of my school desk or at the bottom of my very messy backpack.
My memory becomes a little better when I reflect upon my middle school years. When girls my age were going through their Hannah Montana phase, I was going through an Elvis Presley phase. Shortly after that, I began my Beatles/Classic Rock phase that never really ended. Music became a huge part of my life, and I used it to cope with some of the social, mental and emotional difficulties of my life at that time, and do so even now. Throughout some of the hardest years of my young life, I found comfort listening to some of the greatest Beatles songs ever written, like Yesterday, In My Life, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and Strawberry Fields Forever.
The lyrics of the Beatles songs carried me throughout the difficulties of high school. I learned to rely on them and the positive, encouraging messages they contain as I moved from high school to college.
My mission was the most influential time in my life, and my entire 10 minutes I have for this speech could be consumed many times over describing experiences and lessons learned on my mission. I wish that I had that time but I don’t and so I’ll share the main thing that I experienced on my mission. It gave me a totally new perspective on living. I grew up in an affluent home and neighborhood. I never knew what it was like to worry about being evicted, or worry about about if I had clothes to go to school, if I was going to have food on the table, or if I’d have enough money to make ends meet.
I was exposed to all of those kind of things and more on the mission that was new and different. Seeing those kinds of things impacts a person, and made me realize that I had been living in a bubble. It absolutely changed my life to realize that there are people out there who live those kind of lives. They have the same types of dreams that I do, they want to be happy, they want to provide for their family, they just have so many things that they are dealing with that I’ve never had had to. These were good, honorable people who saw things way differently than I did and I was no better than them. This totally changed my worldview and perspective on life and how people deserve to be treated.
As I reflect over the key lessons learned in my life, both from my upbringing and my mission, my current worldview can be summed up in a line from three of my favorite Beatles songs. First, Hey Jude “It’s a fool who plays it cool by making this world a little colder.” To me this lyric means that we make our world colder by not caring about others and how they may feel. We make it warmer by filling it with love and treating others with genuine kindness. Second, Strawberry Fields Forever. “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.” A lot of us live with our eyes and minds closed and it is easy to become narcissistic, pessimistic and think that everybody is wrong except for you. We should learn to open our mind and eyes by listening to others. Third, The End. “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” How much money we had, how good our GPA was, how successful our professional career was. At the end of our lives, those things don’t matter one bit. The only thing that matters in the end is if we loved others.