We use the phrase so casually: “Hope it turns out well.” In our daily grind, it’s easy to recall the bigger moments in life – beginnings, climaxes, and conclusions that call our attention away from the humdrum and make us sit up and take notice. But life is hardly the sum of those grand events, and how it all “turns out” is more the result of unnoticed moments than brief interludes of drama and flare.

Ashley Bridges is surely not finished “turning out” just yet, but all the same her parents might acknowledge so far, so good. Ashley is a 13-year-old Jefferson eighth-grader. Like her father, she was born and raised in town, surrounded by lots of family. Whatever is helping Ashley become the person she is appears to be local, seems consistent, and must be quite a force for good.

To say the least, Ashley leads an active life. She practices and teaches karate, volunteers with children in two organizations, and works with developmentally differentiated adults. She gets good grades, plays several instruments, has daydreams and fears, and giggles with the girls at the lunch table. She certainly seems to be turning out well.

How’d It Happen?

A curious thing happened when Ashley and her mother stopped to think about how it all came to this. They mused over whether she had simply been born this way – or maybe it was just good fortune – or maybe she won some kind of cosmic lottery. None of these answers felt quite right, but no better explanation was evident.

Take, for example, her love of music. Ashley sings in the choir and plays flute in the band. Of course, the flute doesn’t lend her the same compositional freedom as the piano, which she loves and learned at her neighbor’s house. She took to the piano easier than she did the violin, which she learned by sitting with her cousin. She laughs at the memory of stopping by her neighbor Jim’s to pound away on his drum kit and learning guitar with her uncle Tommy. Although the trumpet wouldn’t make the top of her list of favorites, she’s grateful to have learned that horn with yet another kind neighbor. It’s a mystery as to how exactly Ashley came to have such an affinity for music; it must be a gift.

She’s just as lucky to get along with people so very well. She had the privilege of visiting and caring for her neighbor, Mr. Jellybeans (a fond nickname), as he entered the final stages of his life and finally passed on from an incurable disease. She smiles over the mornings she dropped in for surprise visits and made him hippie pancakes (tie-dyed). Her eyes grow misty as she remembers sitting quietly with him on his “bad days.” Ashley started visiting him with her mom and dad when they helped him out, and eventually found her way there of her own accord. She was comfortable doing so, having always been a compassionate girl. For evidence, just look to the joy she brings residents at an adult care home where she started visiting at about nine years old. According to her mother (who works there), Ashley is like a member of the residents’ own families and they beam at the mention of her coming. Just good fortune, one might suppose, that Ashley learned to connect and share with others in a deep and meaningful way.

It’s No Mystery

Ashley is certainly blessed to be a natural-born leader. Even though her father had to sit next to her on the mat for each lesson during her first three months at karate, these days she instructs the younger students at her dojo. She also helps with her little sister’s scout troop and volunteers as an assistant leader for a vacation Bible school program. Her mom states plainly that Ashley “always had a special way with children.” The teenager herself suspects that it might have something to do with her parents, aunts and uncles and cousins, friends and neighbors, Renshi Matt (from karate), older friends she looks to as examples, and even some of her peers.

During her entire life, Ashley notes, she has been surrounded by loving and supportive people. They guided, pushed, encouraged, and helped her discover, explore, and develop her own personality and qualities. She thanks her fifth-grade teachers, Kelly Trapani and Stacey Bello, for preparing her for the rigors of middle school, and older friends who are helping her prepare for high school and beyond (the Air Force … university … NASA?).

Yes, Ashley seems to be turning out just fine, and who’s to say how she got that way – must have been dealt a good hand. We can all be grateful that she and countless young people like her are well on their way. They are, after all, our future. How they “turn out” will guide the way we all turn out. In fact, among the steps we could take today, right now, to help ensure a better tomorrow for us all, perhaps the best would be to help these young people turn out well. We have it in us to be those kind neighbors, teachers, coaches, family, friends, and strangers. We can, by our own life and example, be a part of the great mystery that causes things to “turn out for the best.”

Ashley sits quietly for a moment, imagining the Jefferson she would visit after she graduates from college, or starts her career, or comes back to Earth. What does her hometown of the future look like? “Well,” she says with a smile, “not much different than today. It would be a place where you’d know people … where they’d know each other … where they’d help each other. And it would still have its wild spaces and natural beauty. That’d be it!” That would, indeed, be a lovely way for the future of our town to turn out.

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