- A memoir is variously defined as an abbreviated autobiography; a record of
events based on the writer's personal observation or knowledge; and the written
story of one's own life. I set out to do those things. But when I sat back to read the
first of many drafts, I discovered my story was her story-my mother's.
At some level, I have always known this. But I was unprepared to see the
evidence writ large. But more than that, I was dismayed that the wisdom I imagined
my calendar years had conferred, was not reflected in my writing. There was still the
primal wail of a weeping child. Quieter, of course. Wailing is not seemly for
occasions other than childbirth, great loss, or sudden death. And railing against the
past is utterly futile. Foolish.
I found great comfort in the words of C. S. Lewis. They mirrored my
experience. As the telling of my story deepened, the writing became, successively,
an incision, a probe, and as Lewis says, a surgery of the gods.
Like surgery, there was first of all fear, followed by pain, discovery, excision,
loss, repair and restoration, and finally, healing and a different outlook altogether.
I found great value in revisiting these memories and seeing that the giants of
my young years are only human, after all, not the ogres I imagined. Like the shadow
in a darkened room, the house cat stretched on the window sill looms like a great
inscrutable Sphinx. A tree branch, benign by day, morphs into a grotesque claw,
scratching and scraping at the window pane. Memories rear up at first like ghosts
in a graveyard. But under a steady beam of light, the apparitions subside.
Writing this memoir has been a window into the past, perhaps an icon, a way
of seeing beyond the surface and into the soul. My own certainly, and perhaps
glimpses of the others I've written about as well.
Two central truths have emerged from writing my memoir. The first is the
power of forgiveness in healing relationships. Forgiveness is not our natural bent;
it goes completely against our natural state. But we can choose to change. Just as
learning to swim is counter to our earthbound existence, but possible, learning to
embrace the freedom of forgiveness is also possible.
The second is something I've always sensed, but now know: the innate
power of a mother to shape the soul of her child.