Jon Russelburg

It was Christmas, I was 5 years old and nagging my older brother. I was with our mom when she bought one of his presents under the tree.

It was one of the first times I felt cool in front of my brother. After an hour of harassing him, I told him I would spell out what he would be opening at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning. The only problem was that I couldn’t spell too well yet. So, while sitting in our shared bedroom with my brother, I yelled out to my mom.

“Mom! How do you spell boots?”

My mom just shook her head and let my brother open his present early. The surprise was gone, and he probably wished it was a new toy instead of rain boots.

It was mid-spring, I was 17 years old. I had just rear-ended a fellow student while leaving school. My first car wreck, and my 1998 Plymouth Breeze was totaled.

I tried to call my mom, whom I knew would be more gentle in her questioning about the wreck, but she was still at work. So I called my dad, terrified that he would yell at me.

Instead, his tone was soft and understanding. He made sure I wasn’t hurt. He told me to give the phone to the police officer so he could go over the insurance information with him.

My dad made the hour drive from his work in probably half the time to pick me up. He held it together, but looking back, I see that he was terrified too.

It’s my sixth year in college, I’m 23 years old. I had to take some time off to help my family, so I attended part-time for a while to save money. I had long-abandoned the career path that I was set-up to receive a degree in. I knew what I wanted to do, but thought I would have to start undergrad over.

I was aimless. But there was a girl.

I was in an upper-level philosophy class and couldn’t stop thinking about the girl sitting next to me. I was rusty in the flirting department, so I teased her for being smart. I was a kid in a sandbox, using the worst possible means to show affection.

She, thankfully, saw through my childish teasing and has taught me how to be a better person over the past seven years.

Now, I’m 30 years old writing this story, in the career that I actually wanted. But at my core, I’m still that 5-year-old hoping my big brother thinks I’m cool. I’m still the 17-year-old who is surprised at the soft concern in my dad’s voice. I’m still 22 years old and hoping I get put in the same group as the girl sitting next to me.

Through our lives, we make our own choices, but our experiences shape how we react to the world. They shape us into who we will eventually become.

So be grateful for the big wins and the heartbreaks alike. Those experiences are you.

You are who you’ve always been.

Jon Russelburg is the digital editor of The Kentucky New Era. Reach him at 270-887-3241 or

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