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:"

Again: "None."

"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:"

Mom: "None."

"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 . . .


ana @ i made it so said...

hi jo, i'm almost sure of it as you say, that "her reluctance to share personal details is itself a revelation..." she would fare well today in the spotlight, i can just see her calm response to throngs of reporters... "no comment." and i had the same thought as you before i read what you wrote about over-sharing. it was a different time, wasn't it? i think specifically of an interview with a ww2 veteran who became uncomfortable being asked so many questions, saying that they just didn't talk about those things.

i wonder how i would answer those same questions, though more honestly, i think i'd just donate such a book to the thrift store :) i like that she took the time to answer the questions, without saying so much. i've been realizing this more and more lately, that less is more.

Jacqueline Lee said...

I was given one of those books once. I only answered the first two pages and stopped. I hesitated because I knew that how I answered one question on a given day, could be very different the next. I felt the book was trying to sum up and define my life...and that just isn't possible.

~*~Patty S said...

Beautifully insightful and caring!
That your Mother took the time to actually go through the questions carefully enough to answer them in her own special way gives me pause...thank you for sharing so beautifully!