My 87-year-old friend told me that she’s not at all the same person she was when she was young. She said her mother told her that as an old woman she’d felt the same way she’d felt at 26. My own mother said that when she was in her 70’s she still felt the same way inside she’d felt when she was 16. In my mid-70’s I don’t feel at all like the person I was when I was young. Life’s experiences continue to change me.
I spent over ten years writing The Long Journey Home, a memoir about my life as a child and continuing through my college experiences, my years as a young married woman with two sons — one with Asperger’s — and a middle-aged woman who had several psychotic episodes that required hospitalization, and much later a stroke and recovery from that stroke. Looking back at some of my experiences, I can’t imagine the person I am now doing some of the things I did when I was younger. A part of me is inclined to judge myself harshly for doing some of those things. I am filled with sorrow at the people I hurt along the way, my sons in particular. Another part of me is grateful that I lived through those experiences to come out of them a wiser, more loving person. Certainly there are many ways to mature creatively, emotionally, and spiritually. Writing my memoir was one of my most important ways.
Writing about my life often evoked such intense emotions that I became exhausted from the effort. After days or weeks of that intensity I would take a break and turn to writing poetry. Sitting in my wheelchair on my porch facing the Deerfield River, I would lose myself in the joy of contemplating the way sunlight danced on ripples of water or the way a single small cloud floated in the blue above me. Then, once again, I would turn to working on my memoir. Did I really do that? I asked myself as I wrote one thing or another. Yes, I did that, I answered myself and searched for words of description. I was grateful when I felt compassion for myself instead of condemnation, pride instead of shame. And if I realized something about myself or about life itself, I was grateful that I found myself changed for the better.
And what about the harm done to me — both physical and mental—or other difficult, painful experiences? I struggled to find words to describe those experiences, just as I had struggled physically to survive them. And now the memories no longer haunt me. Words can heal, after all.
Words can also encourage and inspire, and I hope the words of my memoir will do that for readers. After my son’s memoir Running with Scissors was published, sometimes troubled parents and young people would write to me at my website for support, and I’m grateful I have had the opportunity to be of help. I hope my own story will give hope to people suffering from their own traumas. For most of my life, I never imagined that I would ever reach the place of peace I’ve found, that in my old age I would be able to sit contentedly at my kitchen table and welcome the day — birds singing in the dim light of dawn, the sun rising over the distant hills, and always, always the river flowing past my window. And laughter. I am eternally gratefully for laughter.