Sometimes you read a book or an idea in a book and you feel that the author has taken the words out of your head, put them on paper, and made sense of the gibberish of your thoughts. Recently I blogged about the book: “Brave Enough” by Cheryl Strayed. While it is a book of quotes, there are a few sections where she goes deep into her past. It is as though she took the words out of my mouth (much more eloquent than I would have shared).
“It was wrong. It was so relentlessly awful that my mother had been taken from me. I couldn’t even hate her properly. I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she did the best she could and realize that what she did was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.” Page 68
I do not know whether I ever took the time to forgive my mom for her every motherly fault, I think I just moved on and did not wallow in that — there was enough pain to go around. It did force me to grow up fast (even before she died) and has meant that I am forever trying to bring back the childlike time. My relentlessness, extreme dedication, and persistence has meant that I sometimes have a hard time taking a step back to “play.”
It means I will hold you further away from my core until I can determine if you are going to go deep or stay on the surface. If you stay on the surface, I am not going to waste my time. If we meet in the middle and find that common ground — well the rest it history in the making. My mother leaving me at such an early age means that I will only fill that empty bowl with fruit worth my time, and make sure I constantly remove the rotten versions. I do not want to have to fill it again and again. Instead, I would rather fill it with the best of the best and not waste my time with anything else.
For as long as I can remember I have been someone who has done my own thing. I am not exactly a rebel, but I like to chart my own course, find my own answers, and do not love to just follow someone else’s lead. That does not mean I cannot follow directions or stay the course as needed, I am just less interested in following others. I am not usually one to read a book that everyone is reading. Instead, if the right person shares a nugget that resonates with me — that is when I decide to read the book. Not because everyone else is doing it. I like jewelry that is a piece of art and potentially very few individuals have that piece.
Having been a fan of “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed I was eager to read her next book: “Brave Enough.” Until I learned that it was basically a book of quotes. I am not usually one to sit down and read a book of quotes, and then I thought, it is a small book, it will be a quick read — and it was. She also shared some great ideas. One particularly resonated with me, it is not hers but a proverb of sorts that she shared, and it was the first time I had heard of it. It made me realize that I have always been one to “paddle my own canoe.”
“Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.” page vii
Later on the same page she says:
“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” Page vii
Right on sister. I know I think about that often. Yesterday Chris and I were chilling on the couch while the turkey was cooking away in the oven, and I came across an email between my sister and me from 2010 about my mom, and whether I was mothered. As I read it to Chris I was getting choked up. My sister and I were remembering the good, bad, and ugly from our childhood on the anniversary of my mom’s passing. The beginning of the email my sister says: “Thinking about you tonight – and about mom and how she has been gone for half your life.” That was five years ago, and my mom has now been gone for 21 years, and yet all that I have been through over the years only serves to allow me to see the light.
I have definitely seen darkness, but I have also seen years of light and love. Thank you, Cheryl Strayed, for the reminder that I paddle my own canoe, and that I live in the light.
A few weeks ago, I finished reading “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed. She is the author that wrote “Wild” which is about her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a compilation of many “Dear Sugar” advice columns from The Rumpus. At times these columns tore me apart. Like this excerpt from one of her columns:
“It will never be okay, and yet there we were, the two of us more than okay, both of us happier and luckier than anyone has a right to be. You could describe either one of us as ‘joy on wheels,’ though there isn’t one good thing that has happened to either of us that we haven’t experienced through the lens of our grief. I’m not talking about weeping and wailing every day (though sometimes we both did that). I’m talking about what goes on inside, the words unspoken, the shaky quake at the body’s core. There was no mother at our college graduations. There was no mother at our weddings. There was no mother when we sold our first books. There was no mother when our children were born. There was no mother, ever, at any turn for either one of us in our entire adult lives and there never will be.” Page 98
One of the few photos I have of just my parents…
Tears in my eyes. Reminders of the many events and milestones in my own life that I experienced motherless and fatherless. No parents at my college graduation. Or my wedding. I have yet to sell a book, or have a child, but if I ever do, my mom and dad will not be present. Yes, you can tell me they are there in spirit. That will be true, but it does not replace the feeling and the wonder of what it would be like to see their face, to have them hold me, or to tell me they are proud of me. Nothing can replace that. You might also say to me, but how do you know if you would still be close to them? How do you know if your relationship would exist in a way that you would want them there? I would tell you I cannot answer that. I do not know. So instead I have the anticipation of what it would be like. It is like having a dream that you have over and over again, but you always wake up at the same time. So you never really know what happens. You never get to that place in the dream.
Strayed lost her mother at a young age, and after losing her mother, her stepfather (who basically raised her) stopped all contact with her. In a different column Strayed shared a poignant reminder for me:
“I haven’t had parents as an adult. I’ve lived so long without them and yet I carry them with me everyday. They are like two empty bowls I’ve had to repeatedly fill on my own.” Page 307
This is how I have often felt. My mom has been gone for more years than I ever spent with her. It has been 18 years. She died when I was 16. While she will always be a part of my life, there are days when I struggle to remember what she looked and smelled like. The hardest part is that I can barely remember the sound of her voice.