Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Of One's Own

Have you ever seen a photograph of someone you know well, someone you know better than you know anyone else, perhaps someone you know better than anyone else in their life knows them, and see in the picture something you don't recognize? If you have, you know what a curious moment it is, to realize that no matter what, there is in each of us something that can't be given to anyone else, or known by anyone else, that is ours alone. It's true of everyone we love, and it's true of ourselves.

It's because of this that I've always struggled with the whole notion of constantly trying to achieve "independence," of trying to be sure you hold some part of yourself back from the people close to you, so that you never feel too much in need of them. I agree with it in certain ways. It's entirely possible to become too wrapped up in someone else, to lose yourself in them to a degree that isn't healthy. But ultimately, there's no risk of becoming lost entirely. It's impossible. Even if we TRIED to become completely entwined with other people, we'd never succeed. There's too much that goes on at a level so deep that we can't even articulate it. So much of our lives are lived in our minds in ways that we don't think to express, or are unable to -- small things like the thoughts we have about the hangnail on our right ring finger to our deepest fears. All day long we think a myriad of things that are known only to us.

There's so much of life that has to be lived by one's self, whether we want to or not. So my deal is that I think if we find someone who wants to know as much about us as we can possibly give them, and if we also happen to want to know that much about them, shouldn't we try for it? Shouldn't we try our best to have someone know us so very well that they are startled when they see a glimpse of us that lets them know there's yet more to learn?

I read a wonderful book several years ago, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It's about a missionary family in the Belgian Congo in the 50s. Much of it has faded from memory, but the following passage (from the perspective of the wife/mother) has stuck with me, and probably always will:

"I married a man who could never love me, probably. It would have trespassed on his devotion to all mankind. I remained his wife because it was one thing I was able to do each day. My daughters would say: You see, Mother, you had no life of your own.

They have no idea. One has ONLY a life of one's own.

I've seen things they'll never know about. I saw a family of weaver birds work together for months on a nest that became such a monstrous lump of sticks and progeny and nonsense that finally it brought their whole tree thundering down. I didn't speak of it to my husband or children, not ever. So you see. I have my own story..."


Aunt Jan said...

Another one of my favorite authors...and a poignant passage. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I am constantly amazed at your insights and thoughtfulness. You are wise beyond your years.


Doug Worgul said...

This is some of your very best writing, Lindsey. The first paragraph is, by itself, a poem.

This piece has soul.

And so do you.


Claire said...

What a wonderful piece of writing you've just given us all! There's so much food for thought in there. The passage you've put is beautiful...I will track down the book to read.