Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Book of Myself
After Mom died, Lucy kept discovering interesting things she had left behind. One of the most fascinating was a do-it-yourself autobiography which someone must have given her (it was definitely not something she would have bought for herself).
Called "The Book of Myself", it is a blank diary with pithy statements at the top of each page which the diarist is meant to complete. For example:
"If I had any trouble with Mom growing up, it was in this area:"
MY Mom's answer? "None."
"If I had any trouble with Dad growing up, it was in this area:"
"I wanted this person to be my friend, but the feeling was not mutual."
Mom: "No problem people!"
"This person significantly influenced my life growing up:"
Mom: "No one in particular."
"This is the profession I most often mentioned when people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up:"
Mom: "I don't remember being asked."
"I kept this secret from almost everyone:"
Mom: "No secrets!"
"One big misunderstanding with a friend:"
"I learned to take myself less seriously through my friendship with:"
Mom: "Not applicable."
"I regret having burned this bridge:"
Mom: "I do not recall having burned any."
"Of all my personality traits, I hope my family will remember this one about me:"
Mom: "No comment."
The whole book is like this. Page after page after page of searching questions or leading phrases, each one answered in three words or less, brushed off, pushed aside, deemed irrelevant or - perhaps - impertinent. After the first few pages, the answers become predictable. You know for a certainty that there will be NO revelations here. Yet each question is politely responded to, as if the book had a power of its own, as if, in spite of having no intention of sharing anything personal, she still felt she had to answer.
There was one way she did reveal herself, however. Throughout the book, you can find her proof-reader's pencil at work: a comma added in the introduction, a redundant word crossed out in one of the headings, a misspelling silently corrected.
But her own personal life is strictly off-limits: No mentors that she can recall, too many friends to list, no romantic interest other than her husband, no conflicts of any kind, no memorable teachers, no chores she disliked, no worries, no fears, no burnt bridges, no secrets!
Yet, what can we assume but that she had many secrets, and that she chose to keep them to herself? In fact, her reluctance to share personal details is itself a revelation of epic proportions, a clue to her selflessness and humility and, perhaps, the reason for her kindness and deep compassion. In this world of tell-all, over-sharing, and facebook bulletins, she really didn't think her hectic inner life was anything so amazing it had to be retailed to the world. And ironically, that means that her mystery and allure just go on increasing for me and many others who knew and loved her. What I wouldn't do to get to know her now, as an adult, to ask her about the things I can only guess at, to get a glimpse into what I am quite sure really WAS an amazing inner life . . .