Be Thou My Vision

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.

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22 thoughts on “Be Thou My Vision”

  1. Saloma, I’m so honored to have inspired you to write this. Though our stories are different, they are very similar in many ways, including how we both deal with forgiveness and the need to be honest. I know you will shortly find your way to the next steps you need to take. They are there, waiting for you.

    1. Thank you, Joan. I hope you are right about the next steps. Part of my commitment to myself is to live with the uncomfortable feeling of “not knowing.”

      Thank you for the inspiration, Joan. I hope people come visit your blog and discover their own answers.

  2. My mother’s memorial service was all about the wonderful things she’d done, people telling all these stories about how terrific she was. I sat there thinking, yeah, but she was a shitty mother. This was before I had any idea that she had abused me. But it resulted in me and several friends saying to each other, “When I die, I want people to remember ALL of me, not just the good stuff.” Hard to do at a memorial or funeral. Most people don’t want the harder stuff said there. Maybe I’ll ask to have two, with one for the people who want to tell and hear the whole story.

    For a long time after I began remembering the abuse, it was hard to remember the good stuff too. I was in a group of abuse survivors and we all realized we had to accept that the people who abused us (usually) did good things too. And that both things could be true about the person. Part of healing was learning to accept and live with both.

    Thanks for sharing your journey, Saloma, in your books and in this blog.

    1. Johanna, your story resonates so! How true, that we accept all that happened — eventually when we come around to that — and how freeing that is. I have always accepted that Mem was a good person, too. My aim has been to bring the good and difficult memories together to create a whole picture of her. But perhaps this is trying to make her into someone she wasn’t. She herself was of two minds the whole time I knew her. If she was divided, how can I make the memories of her whole?

      I love hearing your stories. I have a feeling if you and I ever get together, we will have a lot to say. 

      I love that idea of having two memorial services… one for those who want to hear the human side of the person who died, and not just the saintly side.

      Johanna, many blessings to you along your journey.

  3. Saloma, I loved listening to “Be Thou My Vision.” It brought memories of Sunday night singings! And it’s especially beautiful set to Irish music.

    As for Mem… I think the duel parts of her are fascinating. I look forward to meeting her through your writings. She longed for two worlds–just like we do. The difference is–we chose mainstream culture and now find a part of us longing for our heritage. She chose her heritage and found a part of herself longing for mainstream culture. The what if’s. Those are the things we all need to settle inside of us in order to find peace. I wonder what caused Mem to make the choice she did. Was it fear of people? Fear of God? Both or other?

    1. Thank you, Aleta, for your insights. That is so true for those of us who grew up in the Anabaptist cultures and found ourselves wanting… something but not really knowing what.

      I don’t really know what was the source of Mem being of two minds. I do think she was afraid of disappointing her parents by choosing a different life. I think she was also afraid of her father. And I think she bought into what we were taught… that her only chance of making it to heaven was to live out the life that was chosen for her because she was born into it. I wish I could have had a completely honest conversation about this with her, but I don’t think she would have even understood her own motivations… it is impossible to be honest with others when you are not honest with yourself.

      Take good care, Aleta.

  4. I appreciate this post. It is a struggle to forgive but also to remember. Too often in the past it felt like in order to forgive one had to forget, which one really cannot accomplish unless our heads are buried in the sand! I think one of these days I must write about the painful things that were said to me during the time of my daughter’s disappearance and after my parent’s passing.

    1. Sadie, it is so good to see you here. I, too, was taught that one forgives AND forgets. I’ve never been able to do that.

      Your story is an amazing one. I have no doubt that when you’re ready, you will write it.

  5. Hello Saloma, When I read your blogs sometimes I think they could be my own stories. My mother was also a divided person. Her Amish upbringing ruled a lot of how she would react and feel about things and it didn’t fit at all with where we lived and our church dealt with things. Now that I think about this and have taken the time to not be angry, it must have been extremely hard for her sometimes. I am not finished with putting some very hurtful things to rest but I have come a long way to finding peace. One thing that did help me so much was last June. My husband and I were able to visit 2 cousins of my mother. The one sister was 97 and the other 100. These 2 are the very last of their generation. I asked them to tell me what they remembered about my mother and they said they have great memories of her. They loved it when she would come and stay with them. She was right between them in age. They said she was lots of fun. I absolutely couldn’t imagine my mother being a lot of fun. Anyhow, this gave me a great peace of mind. My mother was a person of her time, her background wasn’t like mine and she for sure wouldn’t have written about things. I am now almost 72 and I have finally been able to lay to rest somethings that were not at all good. This has taken me a long time and I wish you the very best as your continue your journey with what you have received.

    1. Mary, thank you for your thoughts. I’m glad you had the chance to ask your cousins about your mother. I don’t know if they are like my relatives, but they would never have said anything “against” my mother. To this day, I would not get anything but praise about Mem. And Mem was that same person they would describe. But she also had that harsh side to her that they didn’t see. I seemed to have a knack for bringing out that side of her, even though I didn’t mean to.

      Yes, I am working towards laying things to rest also. I suppose I will as long as I live.

      Thank you for your good wishes for my journey, and I wish the same for you.

      1. Hello again, Your reply was especially interesting. I think the answer of my mother’s cousin were honest because I think my mother was a different person before she became a mother and had all kinds of issues she didn’t know how to deal with. I also think her personality changed as she got older too because she needed medicine. This was however not talked about for sure. My sister will not hear of anything wrong and will still tell me all the conflicts we have had were my own fault. She treats me the same way my mother did and it isn’t possible to try to get things talked out enough to get a good prospective on things. I think that the gene bank of some families is mixed up because there wasn’t enough new blood in the picture. I thank God sometimes that I am normal. It is just the way it is and thankgoodness there is a lot more understanding about these kinds of things.
        take care, mary

        1. Isn’t it so interesting how siblings can have such a different view (from one another) of their parents? Same genes, same parents, but a whole different perspective. None of my siblings had or have this difficult relatationship with Mem that I do.

          That’s good that you could borrow from your cousin a view of your mother that’s positive (and accurate). It is entirely possible that Mem also was different before she married, but she would never talk about her life, other than to say that she had a happy childhood… end of story.

          I think you are absolutely right about the gene pool in many Amish communities. If they don’t find new blood, I think they are on a collision course with their own genes.

  6. I also had a mother who was two different people. After many years of internal pain and guilt I finally realized something that changed my life and how I felt about her…….she was my mother but she was never my mom! There is a big difference between the two. Simple as that. Mother not mom. That doesn’t get her off the hook, but my guilt (why was I feeling guilty-she should have!) has just melted away. My mother in law was my mom. She loved me unconditionally. That’s what a mom is. My dad is really my daddy. That’s a super duper dad!

    A young friend of mine just lost her father. He was very prickly to say the least. She had a father but he was not her dad. Dads don’t behave like that. Once she was able to quantify his position in her life it gave her some peace. Her step-dad was her dad. Not her father, but her dad. She feels blessed to have him.

    Moms and dads are lucky people.

    1. Marilyn, thank you for your comments. I never thought about the distinctions you’ve made. We all have ways of finding our way through life’s struggles. May you continue to find peace in your journey.

    1. I love this quote and I instantly recognized the truth in it. I suppose getting to that point is a life-long process for me. Though the harm becomes less and less as I do the healing work.

      Thank you, Fran, for sharing this.

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