Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Process of Remembrance

Sometimes I feel like I should apologize for my overt emotional transparency, for I know many people are not comfortable around those who regularly put emotionally tainted thoughts on display. However, if you have visited my blog before, you know that I flash both emotions and thoughts at will – a characteristic, I believe, that might be dictated by my DNA.

So if this is your first time to my blog: beware. I'm pretty hung up on me. To be even more clear: This blog is all about me, all the time.

That shouldn't be a surprise, for that's what a blog is – a web log that provides a running commentary on a topic or serves as an online diary. My blog is mostly the latter flavored with a bit of the former, and I regard this blog as an extension of Involuntary Joy, the memoir I wrote about my first five years as a mom. How I share what's on my mind matches the book's tone, and I believe the copy on the book's cover describes it best:

Involuntary Joy relates the fullness of her story, with blemishes exposed and vulnerabilities offered for full examination.

So, again: beware. You're gonna get the full story of what's happening in my life, with blemishes exposed and vulnerabilities offered to you for full examination. I simply don't know another way to do it.

My blog's purpose – declared in full view as the subhead – is to answer a perpetual question: "Who am I now?" I believe this question has a universal answer that remains constant – a child of God – as well as an answer that varies with each person who is asking. It's the Part 2 of the question that intrigues me most, for it deepens Part 1: "I am a child of God who …"

Who what?

Thinks this {fill in the blank}.
Is afraid of this {fill in the blank}.
Is reluctant to admit this {fill in the blank}.
Wishes she could stop doing this {fill in the blank}.
Is deeply grateful for this {fill in the blank}.

You get the idea.

For me, coming up with answers for the blanks requires a type of self-examination that's aided by memory. I gain insight about where I'm going based on introspection about where I've been. Sometimes my process for remembrance is intentional, like paging through photo albums and yearbooks or reading through files filled with letters, documents and old journal entries. I find affirmation in this jumbled chronicle of my life's milestone moments – reassurance that who I am has been sufficient and who I can be holds great promise.

Other times remembrance simply happens, triggered by memories that bubble into present day events. This type of bubbling happened this weekend as I helped apply stage makeup to cast members in a high school production of "Oklahoma." Stage makeup colors many of my high school memories, connecting me to the leading lady I used to be. I was a young woman who earned a musical theatre scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa but decided not to use it. This earlier version of me was a dramatic, real-life ingenue who realized that pursuing life as an actress would forever change her – likely becoming more dramatic and less like an ingenue.

This weekend, when I saw the high school actors, I remembered me and felt gratitude for the wonder of my life's journey.

Had I become an actress, I don't think I'd have become a mother; for as I shared in the epilogue of Involuntary Joy, I had decided not to have children at the time I was entertaining college scholarships. Perhaps, I'd have eventually felt a maternal pull as part of a storybook storyline with a real-life equivalent of a leading man. Or maybe I'd have been drawn to the motherhood experience out of a desire to really know what being a mother felt like, not just acting such a part.

I'll never know.

On Saturday, as I remembered the me of then, I was thankful for the me of now – a mom watching her son stretch his moral imagination by becoming a cowboy. And not just any cowboy – a toe tapping, tap dancing, lasso roping, singing one. While I've never performed the role of a cowboy, I saw myself in my son, loving every minute of what it took to bring his role to life in front of an adoring audience. Regardless of where his life's journey carries him, I believe that one day he, too, will remember those moments and wonder how they might help answer the question: "Who am I now?"

Remembrance is a powerful practice, isn't it? Holy days of remembrance connect the people of Israel to the God of their fathers. Muslims recount Allah's faithfulness as a way of experiencing the same. Like the disciples of these and other faith expressions, I've found that remembering who I used to be and where I've been establishes a divine connection that sustains my hope for all that is to come.

We are all children of God – every one of us. Children of God who ... well, you fill in the blank.

For the record: My favorite role was Reno Sweeney, a character definitely not of the ingenue mold. Interestingly, she's probably the one I related to best, as well – except for her former prostitute and friend-to-gangsters status. I love Reno's complexity and her brazen, let's-put-everything-on-the-table-friend attitude.



Kati Potratz said...

Dear Joy, you still obviously have a way of "putting yourself out there," even if you're not on stage! Real life is a drama, too...

Ok, this is off-topic but do Muslims really use the word "faithful" to describe Allah toward them? As far as I know, Allah is not a personal god at all or interactive in the lives of his followers, which is what makes him very different from the judeo-Christian God. I have heard he is very hard to reach muchless get any kind of answer to prayers that you could call faithful.

Joy said...

Kati ... life certainly is dramatic, isn't it?

As for Mulims and Allah, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Muslim faith - and I certainly don't profess to be an expert. I am aware that the first tenet of their faith speaks to Allah's supremeness and his essence as "just, compassionate, and merciful." It speaks to Allah's absolute unity and power as the creator of life and death - the friend and protector of the sick and the poor.

I think it gets too easy sometimes for Christians to think that no other faith expressions have the ability to connect with the divine in very real and rewarding ways.

Each child of God's experience is valid; the "realness" of the Islamic experience is likely the reason more than 19% of the world's population identifies themselves as Muslim.

Many beautiful poems exist that speak to Allah's faithfulness for fulfilling all the things outlined above - written by faithful Muslim disciples. I would never deny the truth of their personal experience, just as I'd never want anyone to deny mine.