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When I was at Mount Mary College studying and learning and growing and climbing Mount Everest-like peaks of educational heights, I met some truly interesting and influential people. I’ve always wanted to write a series of blogs honoring them, and the gifts that they gave me. I will, someday.
Today, though, I started thinking about one particular gal who I met and became friends with on that leg of the journey. I met Jen (her name’s common enough, so I’m not changing it – names have power & I prefer to use real ones whenever possible…) in one of our mutual English classes. We had a LOT in common, and hit it off fast and famously.
Speedy chats before and after class quickly segued into the two of us perched into the wee hours on the wooden Adirondack chairs, weathered and worn smooth with age and use, tucked beneath the sheltering eaves of a hidden nook near the back of the college.
We laughed until our faces hurt and our sides ached. We mused and pondered and what-if-ed our lives. We solved the world’s problems, and railed against its injustices.
We formed a sisterhood. In the long shadow of an edifice built for permanency, we transformed for flight. The chill of fall gave way to winter’s bite, and winter relaxed its iron fist and softened into the sultriness of spring. We sat, young and strong and foolhardy, full of our own beauty and importance and invulnerability, and dreamt and talked and worried and ranted.
And Jen graduated, and fell into doing what new graduates do – wonder if they’ve made the right choices, look for gainful employ, and rediscover reading for pleasure. And I continued to run up that hill and take classes and bury my nose in books, while the ashes of my failing marriage swirled around me. And days bled into weeks and weeks into months, and I missed the sister I’d discovered.
One day, I went out to the mailbox, and there, hidden amongst the dross of bills and residential mailers was a sparkling gem – a letter from Jen. She wrote to tell me that she was leaving, shaking the dust from her boots and the Wisconsin chill from her bones, to go to film school in California. Because of me, because of what I’d said to her.
I sat at my kitchen table, the epicenter of my volatile life, and held that note before me for a long time – an unlooked for beam of light in an otherwise gray day. And I thought, “But, what did I say?”
To this day, I have no idea what it was that I said in the long, continuing conversation of that friendship that lit a fire in her belly and whetted both her longing and resolve for fulfillment. I remember wishing that day, that someone would say something like that to me – something that would eat at my complacency and vault me into action. Eventually, many someones did – eventually, I was able to tell myself the right things in the right moments, too, spurring me to action.
The power of that experience stayed with me. I remain in awe of it – that something I didn’t even clearly remember saying could burrow into another person’s mind, effecting changes I could never have foreseen.
And it makes me wonder how many intrepid souls set out to sea, or crossed mountain ranges, or slayed dragons – literally or figuratively – because someone, somewhere, said something to them. Something that captured their imagination, something that seized them, that caught hold of them and wouldn’t shake loose.
And it made me realize how powerfully we affect one another without ever being aware of it. It made me realize the power of the ideas we share, the power of longing and passion to infect the human heart with desire.
I wonder about her now and again, whether she went on to glory in California, or disaster. I wonder if she’d recognize me now – a phoenix risen many times over from the ashes of the life I light ablaze and burn to cinders around me.
And I’m grateful to her – because while something I said sent her haring off in search of her destiny – something she said taught me a lesson: We are each more important than we can ever know, and that while our legacies are often unseen, intangible, and unheralded, they change the landscape, raze mountains, and alter the course of rivers – with only a word spoken gently into the ear ripe to hear it.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about memory lately. Not the kind of thing where you realize that you really need to start taking gingko biloba because you keep forgetting where you’ve put your keys and what time your meeting is tomorrow. Real memory – the phenomenon that contributes to who we become as much as our choices do in the now.
I’ve been doing a lot of journaling lately – that little book gets all the stuff that’s ‘not fit to print.’ That’s where I keep all my ugly. We’ve each got to have somewhere to go with it, and those little composition notebooks are my chosen repository. I’ve even started including humorous disclaimers at the beginning, so that if my ancestors decide to get nosy, they know just what they’re in for. Doing that makes me laugh – imagining their faces.
I’ve been journaling a lot about the memories that I do have about growing up and the way that certain things went down in my life. Wondering about the other people in those situations, and how their memory of those things go, and how that affects them.
I feel like I am doing a lot of emotional vomiting into those poor little notebooks lately. I’ve stopped questioning why this is “all of a sudden” happening now. It’s happening now, because I’m ready for it to happen now. I’m ready to deal with things, or to put them to bed. And the purge is a necessary part of that.
It’s a joke to think that anything like that happens “all of a sudden.” Emotional purges are the unwatched pots left on the back burner – they boil over, and boil over, and boil over until you’ve gotten it all out of your system.
I’m such a little do-er, such a pursuer of all that life has to offer. It feels strange to be so content to just be – which is where I’ve been for the past couple of months. I’m making no grand plans for the future, I’m taking no steps forward. I’m not going backward, though, either. I’m just kind of hanging out and reviewing some things. That’s totally what this feels like.
And I’m okay with it – more so on some days than I am on others. I’m choosing to have faith that just because I can’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that great things aren’t being put in motion to come down the pipeline. I’m doing what’s in front of me and I’m looking at who I’ve been so I can figure out how I got here, and waiting to figure out just where I’m meant to head from here on out.
When I think about it like that, all that comes to me is the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz saying, “All in good time, my pretty…all in good time.” Not such bad advice – if you don’t consider the source.