My friend, Joan Z. Rough, asked a question on her blog today that triggered an unexpected response from me, and I realized I needed to share here on my blog what I discovered by answering her question. She had asked, "If you have intentions for the next ten minutes, this coming year, or for the rest of your life, what are they and how do [you] see yourself manifesting them?"
This question struck at the heart of my struggle these past few weeks. I've been journaling as I try to discover my next step in this journey we call life. I listen to the silence around me in the solitude of my home and to the song “Be Thou My Vision," hoping I will discover my next step.
In writing my answer to Joan's question, I realized what my struggle involves. I’ve written enough controversial stuff to last a lifetime. I want to write something “feel-good,” like a cookbook with vignettes. This would be like enjoying a stroll along a garden path, compared to fighting my way through the brambles, which is what it's like to write the difficult truth. The choice seems so simple.
And yet it's not. My muse is not cooperating with walking along the garden path. I know eventually I will need to go back to writing about my relationship with Mem.
I keep returning to the words of Nikky Finney. There was a beautiful article by her in “Poets and Writers” magazine a few years ago. She described how her grandmother made a stunning, fervent request after reading one of Finney’s books — she asked that it be her last. Finney wrote: “I would’ve promised to sail the seven seas in five days if I could have, for my grandmother. She meant that much to me. ‘Promise’ she said. But I couldn’t. Even for her, I couldn’t.”
My mother once asked me to “not write anything bad about Joe or me.” I couldn’t promise Mem any more than Finney could promise her grandmother.
Finney also addressed the issue of forgiveness. She wrote: “I too forgive, but I don’t forget. In the forgetting we miss something important about the climb, the loss of life, the loss of dreams. My responsibility as a poet, as an artist, is to not look away.”
I cried when I read these words. It was just before my first book came out, and I felt Finney had just expressed in words what I couldn’t have at that time.
My memories of Mem are as divided as she was. I, to this day, compartmentalize the "good" memories from the "bad." Only the "good" or easy ones go in the vignettes of the cookbook. And that is why I want to write that book. And also why I can't. If I am to remain true to my authentic self, I need to write about both the easy and the difficult memories.
I am going to quote from Downton Abbey again. And here I have to confess I have skipped ahead and watched the rest of Season 5 online. There is an ongoing thread about Ms. Baxter's past. She is so honest — with herself and others — about the mistakes she made in the past. She and Mr. Mosley are forming a romantic friendship, and he has a hard time understanding or believing she could have done what she did. She finally says to him that she cannot change what her past is. She pauses and says, "Not even for you." She said it in such an achingly loving and honest way.
And that is how it is with Mem. I feel if I am going to be true to my memories of her, I need to write about the difficult ones as well as those that lie calmly in my mind. Even as I accept the gift and grace of forgiveness, I cannot forget what happened.
When I have left this earth and I remain only in the memories of those who knew me, I hope people will be honest about the mistakes I made and how that affected them. And should they find forgiveness in their hearts for my failings, I hope they will love who I was in spite of them. This is where I am with Mem. I think of her in her heavenly home, and I will love her always.