Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Why even bother to write all this stuff down?

During the week before last, I read a book entitled Gilead in which an aging father wrote a long letter, a journal of sorts to his very young son. Fearful that his life would end long before his parenting responsibilities, the reverend set out to tell his son the story of his life, his pastorate, his own father and grandfather, and how the legacy of all those pastors, all that Biblical outrage, and all their most well-guarded secrets would very likely influence his son’s life. Into the multigenerational story, the main character adeptly wove enchanting descriptions of the world in which he lived. He marveled at the beauty of the sky, the fields, the townspeople that surrounded him, as well as the dainty details of his son’s skin tone, the curve of his neck, and the subtle beauty of his beloved wife. While my description here is scant in details, the novel most certainly is not. It is a both worthy of a luxurious, slow read, accompanied by sweet tea and home-baked cookies. Most days, that's exactly how I read it. Aaaahhh!

As I worked my way through that lyrical novel, I found myself reflecting both on what I write and why I write. Do I expect that my children will read all my journals and blogs, take all my sage advice to heart (is it sage?), and avoid the many pitfalls that have felled me in this life of mine? Do I expect that someday my personal writings will be the stuff of Anais Nin legend? Do I take the time include my observations of my children’s antics, my husband’s humorous foibles, and my own frequent bouts with “foot in mouth” syndrome? If they read my journals thirty or forty years from now when I’m long gone, will they have any idea how much I have enjoyed them, cried with them and for them, and prayed for great joy and peace to reign in their lives? Will they know how much I’ve dreamed for them and their futures? Will they realize how incredulous I still am that they even exist – that my body (with some willing assistance from my husband) created two human beings with hearts and souls and minds of their own? Will they know how much I love them?

When I think back on our month in Spain, when I read the postcards I sent to myself along the way, and the many pages of journaling I did while we were there, I cannot help but be grateful for the wonderful time we shared there. To awake each morning with excitement as to what we would see, who we would encounter, and what new food we would try – it was a gift beyond any we’d ever shared before. We walked for hours at a time, took the subway all over Madrid, and sometimes I followed their lead as we made our way home from local shops and cafes. That was an adventure; we never got lost, but there were a few uncertain turns made along the way. Most nights, I couldn’t wait to put them to bed so I could rush downstairs to my journal and write about the day. They both left for Spain with a certain amount of skepticism as to what awaited us there, but they both begged and pleaded for us to stay there longer when the day of our departure from Spain arrived.

As they read, will they hear my laughter as I describe how we sat on “our bench” on la calle Eloy Gonzalo and watched the Spaniards promenade with their children and dogs in tow? Will they see my smile when I recount our walks, talks, and meals with Antonio up in the north of Spain? Will they remember the wrinkled little old woman who sat across from us on the train to Toledo and then donned her beggar’s attire and asked us for a donation half an hour later outside of the magnificent cathedral there? Will they remember where we sat in the back row of that same church to eat our licorice after a long morning of exploring and hill climbing? Will they appreciate the fear and uncertainty I felt when Daniel fell and hit his head on the marble slab sidewalk of la Castellana and nearly knocked himself unconscious? The thought of going to a hospital in Madrid and being told that my son had a concussion was more than I could process at the moment. If they read my journal, I think they will know all that and more.

If they read my journals and my blogs, they will know that in the midst of a busy life, an active family and church life, I had moments when I wanted to run away from it all. They will know that even though I loved them and their father without measure, at times I wanted to be single and childless. They will know that despite my numerous professions of faith sometimes I was nearly drowned by overwhelming waves of doubt. They will know that I am a deeply flawed, skittish, easily unnerved woman who tried desperately to protect them from all my flaws, skittishness, and nervousness. They will know that my bravado, my strength, my courage, and my determination to give them the very best life I could imagine for them were nothing more than a premeditated attempt to keep them from ever knowing the despair, the hunger, the sorrow, and the fear that most children their age experience on a daily, an hourly basis all around the world and even in this very nation.

Many people who don’t journal tell me that they don’t write because they are worried that people will find out their secrets and think less of them. Others say that their lives are too mundane to be worthy of recording. Some think that journaling is difficult, demanding, and downright dangerous. I agree with all of those reasons; every one of them makes perfect sense. But I go beyond those reasons and ask myself these questions: what if more people knew that their secrets were the same as everybody else’s and that if we tell the truth about our fears and doubts and mistakes, we can help many others make better decisions in their lives? If it’s true that my DNA is unique, that no one else in the world is like me, that there has never been anyone else like me, then everyone of us is living a unique life, and who wouldn’t want to read about my unique walk through this world or yours? When I think of all the questions I never asked my dearly departed Dad, I am all the more sorrowful that he didn’t keep a journal, and leave behind his great wisdom in written form. Journaling is difficult, demanding, and dangerous sometimes, but so is life. Why not tell the tale for others to enjoy?

Someone wrote that the unexamined life is not worth living. Journaling and blogging have provided a platform for examining my life, for putting my reflections on paper, and then later on, for leaving an account of my life for my children to examine and reflect upon. Just as I followed their lead down the streets of Madrid, I hope that someday they will follow mine, watching from a distance as I recount my uncertain turns along the way. May my poorly drawn map of my own life serve as both a caution and as a tribute to the wonder that this life can be. Write on!

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