Mundane to Profane: Writing our Own Stories
“Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.”Kahlil Gibran
I have suffered in my life, but I have always diminished that suffering by comparing it with that of others; finding it not so bad as theirs and not worthy of memorializing. The truth is when we tell our stories it can make our friends and family uncomfortable. It can make us uncomfortable. That’s why we tend to shy away from immortalizing those stories. Yesterday, while talking to genealogy friends we were talking about all of the stories that are lost because no one records them. From the mundane to the profane, history forgets. And these days we have such short memories. Whether blessing or curse my memories and the stories I tell about them have become a curse. Perhaps not rising to the level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but certainly on the spectrum of trauma that sets you up for lifelong triggers and maladaptive responses. But all stories can be re-written.
The latest shooting of children by a gunman in Uvalde, Texas makes me think of all the children and families which will relive that day every time something triggers that memory. Every person alive will respond in different ways to National tragedies like the shooting of President Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, 911 or the latest mass shooting. Each of these traumas affects us depending on our temperament, our proximity and our ability to compartmentalize tragedies that are beyond our control. Today is Memorial Day. The day to remember those that died in the service of their country. It has morphed into a remembering of all of our dead. Perhaps that makes it more palatable, not to remember specifically those slaughtered in war, but to remember all that we have lost.
I wrote about my name and the process I had gone through to reframe the discomfort it caused. Writing can be a process of healing. We take something tragic and try to find a way to bring something good to come out of it. With all that is threatening us in the world from the War in Ukraine to global warming, it becomes increasingly more difficult to find peace and happiness. We focus on the positive, on what we can control and the goodness we can find, whether a flower pushing itself up through cracked pavement or the delight of watching young squirrels chase each other round a tree trunk. Life goes on in spite of unspeakable tragedy. Writing is a way of recording the past but it can also be an instrument of healing.
“We read to know we are not alone”– William Nicholson wrote in his play Shadowlands. We write to connect our past with our present, and perhaps to touch someone in the future. It is our act of hope that something we record will resonate with someone who needs to read it. I told this story to a couple of friends just yesterday. It records a painful incident from twenty years ago that was echoed in something that happened a few days ago. It is a small thing but emblematic of how sometimes it’s family that strikes the cruelest of blows.
I was reminded of a time after my Dad died and my mother had returned from a trip to Costa Rica. My brother was at her house and I had brought her flowers. My Mom says to me, ” Kelly, put them in that vase right there.” Then she adds, “Isn’t that a beautiful vase is that your brother gave me.” I say, “Mom, I gave you that vase for Mother’s Day. I bought it at Macy’s when I was shopping for a wedding gift” She argues with me and I take and turn the crystal vase upside down and it still has a Macy’s sticker on it. Silence. My brother does not say, “Mom I didn’t get that for you.” My Mom does not say, “I am sorry I forgot.” Then Mom says, “Kelly get me the paper bag on the dining table, which I dutifully retrieve. Then she directs me to give it to my brother which I do. Inside are gifts for my brother from Costa Rica. There is nothing for me, and that is her point.
So why share something so personal and painful? Why hang out our dirty laundry for the world to see? For me it is many things. It is an act of courage and defiance. While I have relieved that painful memory recently when something similar caused it to resurface I can choose whether to tell the story as the victim or as a badge of courage. Nietzsche wrote “Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” We hear the shortened version often.
“What doesn’t kill you makes me stronger.”Nietzsche
None of us gets through life unscathed. Luck, circumstance, genetics, trauma— the cauldron of life is not the same for each of us. Sometimes life is unspeakably cruel in ways that are difficult to give voice to. From seemingly random tragedies, like gun violence, to the ravages of cancer or chronic illness. We cannot make sense of it. But I do know, at pivotal moments we have an opportunity to record the comedies, histories and the tragedies of our lives and those that came before us. They will not always be pretty and they may sometimes be painful, but they are the authentic stuff of life. The more we uncover the family stories of our ancestors–the more we realize we are not alone. Families are messy. They are full of joy and sorrow. And for many they do not appear in equal measure and yet we endure, we survive and occasionally we triumph. I think of the movie: ” As Good As it Gets” and I have to smile. Sometimes just being able to tell a painful story or step on a crack makes us the hero of our own story. For me there is a release in setting the story free. I don’t have to remember it and I can change it as I see fit. I invite you dear reader to do the same. Whether you share your stories or not, write it down. Give it a voice.
Kelly Wheaton ©2022 All Rights Reserved