Second post on Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul:
The sentimental image of family that we present publicly is a defense against the pain of proclaiming the family for what it is—a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating house of life and memory. (Care of the Soul: 26)
Just a few months ago my uncle, age 70, told me he was planning to write his own biography or maybe a memoire… Afraid of getting old and forgetting, he wanted to start writing as soon as possible. He wanted his story to be known by his grand children, and maybe, one day, their children. My uncle is the youngest of three brothers, my father the eldest. They grew up on a strawberry farm in an area which today has become a part of the inner city, everything changed in just a few decades.
The three brothers had an abusive father, I know because I once, as a young child, witnessed him harassing my grandmother. And because my father told me and my siblings about it. My uncle on the other hand, has never told his own children, my cousins, about the abuse. And he, the youngest brother, also never speaks about his hateful relation to the second brother (my other uncle). My youngest uncle prefer to pretend all is well, or maybe he doesn’t notice the darker sides of life?
But after our conversation about his memoire I couldn’t help wondering: what kind of a family-portrait will he paint? What is it he wants his descendants to know? Will he tell his story truthfully? And what is truth, anyway?
At a certain level, then, it doesn’t matter whether one’s family has been largely happy, comforting, and supportive, or if there has been abuse and neglect. I’m not saying that these failures are not significant and painful or that they do not leave horrifying scars. At a deep level, however, family is most truly family in its complexity, including its failures and weaknesses. (Care of the Soul: 26)
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Families are complex; the only people who can hurt us for whom we have reasons to want to protect and forgive. I am not saying either of those things are preferable to rejecting family, or that is the duty of anyone to forgive, but as children we have few choices.
When adults, we hope, we begin to understand the rivers that flow through us began in distant mountains that preceded our father’s fathers, mothers and mother’s mothers. In the end we can to choose to be the people we might have wished our families to been, and whether they are a part of our lives can be their choice. And we still affect the children around us, even those who aren’t our own. I find it interesting to watch them watching adults. They don’t separate themselves into ego packages like adults. They absorb and absorb.
Thank you, Rio!
I’ve been thinking about this lately myself, reading memoirs. They interest me in part because they are inherently skewed–how could one write an objective autobiography? And that skewing of perspective is partly where the art of a good memoir lies.
Thank you, Ann!
I think you are right about the inherently skewed perspective. But I still think one has to risk something, actually quite a lot, to make a memoire become something more than … say a “letter of recommendation”…? I believe a good memoire, if it is to touch any reader, must include, to use a Jungian phrase, one’s shadow.
He may hide some “truths” under a tent of purposeful unknowing, but in the end, that will be his story. I agree with Ann above, and I thank you for continuing to question and wanting to dig deeper.