Writing, for me, is both part of how I make a living and part of how I give meaning to my life. My summer reading coincidentally tied into a theme that, ultimately, a life is just a collection of stories.
What does it mean to write the story of my own life, one scene and one day at a time?
I often tease my kids by telling them that you don’t see a lot of characters in books or TV shows hogging screen time. It makes for some pretty boring plots. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to read or watch the chronicle of an eight-hour workday, much less the minute-by-minute account of a career. Any good storyteller must sift through which words are included, as well as which are not.
In writing the story of my life, however, I experience plenty of moments that won’t make it into the highlights or the bloopers. Our world is currently obsessed with capturing moments and sharing them, but there’s so much (and maybe more) value in the things that happen between photographs and bonfires. When we tell the story in hindsight, we will identify the parts that matter most, interpret the meaning, and make sense of what happened. I yearn for that kind of clarity in his life.
Summer has given me three messy moves that I don’t have any sense for yet.
First, I started the long weekend off by finishing up making a long-awaited Gryffindor quidditch sweater for one of my kids. And when I got home I found that I had hurt myself knitting with many hours of repetitive motions in the combined 10 hours of riding. (My 14-year-old son thinks this is the funniest extreme sports injury he’s ever had.)
I’m shocked, as always, with relatively minor injuries, how much I take for granted when my body is functioning as it should. And the most important part of the story is the physical therapy stretches that I have to do several times a day to make sure I can continue to enjoy knitting, playing guitar, and gardening.
The rest demanded by my hand surfaced a second healing movement for me. I have recognized how often I fill my life to avoid feeling what surfaces when I am calm and still. I want to be understood and affirmed, to have happy people with me, to know what to do in all situations. When I am misunderstood, confused and disappointed people, I fight. I don’t even let myself smell it most of the time, let alone take a picture of it to tell the story. After five years of intense mourning and healing work, there is a movement towards more ordinary growth. Seeing a trainer and practicing new habits will help in ways that I can’t yet know.
Finally, my eldest son has been absent from school all year. It’s so good to have him home, playing with his siblings, making us watch silly TV and brushing up on our vocabulary. We have arrived at the years I have been waiting for: sleeping, going on adventures without diaper bags, having hilarious conversations and rolling my eyes. For the first time as a parent, I feel nostalgic and a bit sad. Children grow up, fast, as everyone says.
Making the most of it includes epic road trips and a million reminders to pick up your socks and unload the dishwasher, again. I would like to know which conversations will mark them for life and which ones they will remember when I am gone. I aspire to be the mother they need and know that I can only do my best.
It’s a miracle that the story of my life includes so many mundane moves, messy mistakes and redesigns, evenings at the park and walks around the block that are completely innocuous. I write the story of my life by presenting myself today, by taking a few more steps to be and become the person for whom I was created.
The plot moves forward when I like as best I can and try again tomorrow, to find a path from this moment to the next with grace.
(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatoon and writes and speaks about the faith. His website is leahperrault.com)