Curiosity was not encouraged when I was a child. A question would be answered with accusations of impertinence and claims of bad manners. I learned very quickly to not ask anything but remain as quiet as I could and observe the people and world around me. Worse than questions were opinions, certainly those evil instruments of free will and individual thought were not encouraged. I was the last in the “children should be seen and not heard” generation in a world embracing liberation and empowerment; I was not permitted to play in that emerging arena and found great frustration knowing it was just out of my reach.
Childhood lessons learned by observing actions and not by words makes for a very interesting skill set as an adult. I’m happy for it, like a weird superpower, though, in retrospect, I am not much a fan of the process. In an effort to maintain a facade of polite I was often filled with questions with no answers. I was left to wonder.
Years go by filled with the things of life: school, career, marriage, moves, loss, children, illness, divorce, death and one day you find yourself at the kitchen table, photo in hand, and realize while you were keeping up with life you haven’t spent much time in active wonder. That’s where I found myself last week when I volunteered to do a “show and tell” for my “Writing Personal Stories” course.
Recently I was given a photograph of my sisters and me:
I would guess that it was taken sometime in 1971. I held it in front of me and looked at those faces. I didn’t remember specific stories, but I did remember feelings. Which made me wonder.
I WONDER | what would happen if everyone spoke the truth, from a place of caring and compassion?
I WONDER | what ever happened to all of those people I met, liked and lost over the years? Where is Lee Ann? Laura? Linda? Anita? Naomi? Cindy? Jane? Dave? Andy? Nancy? Michael? Andrea? Rennie? Stacey? Judy? Marilyn? Sue? Carl? Ed? Mitzi? I see so many faces in my memory and can barely remember the names, first or last. I’m fortunate to have found many on Facebook and LinkedIn, but the rest? Lost to all but my mind.
I WONDER | why I was collected from my grandparents home in Truro, the summer of 1972, to move to our new home in Toronto and not given a chance to say goodbye to my friends at our home outside Cleveland?
I WONDER | when it became acceptable to abandon your children? Physically, emotionally or both. I realize that most people do not know one person, personally, who has done such a heinous act, but I know THREE. Crazy.
I WONDER | why it was considered a good idea for me to go from a small boarding school (165 girls) in small town Ontario to a small university (1,500 students) in smaller town New Brunswick to take a subject I was told to take and not what I wanted to take. I graduated high school as Valedictorian, I could have gone anywhere and taken anything I wanted. Why didn’t I?
I WONDER | what my life might have been like if I had just packed my bag and left all that was “safe” to pursue my dream of writing, like Christopher Hitchens or Dominick Dunne or Sebastian Junger, for Vanity Fair magazine? Could I have been that brave or daring? It could not possibly have been any more dangerous than conforming.
I WONDER | why everyone believed I was some kind of cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, drug-addled miscreant when all evidence was to the contrary? Why do people believe what they hear and not what they see?
I WONDER | why I wasn’t allowed to go to Florida, when I was recruited, to pursue my tennis talent and aspirations? Why weren’t my sisters permitted to follow their desiress? Why were we denied our dreams yet left to drift with no sense of direction or framework?
I WONDER | why I always chose the wrong man. Always. Even when I knew what I was doing I always went the wrong way. What was the fear? That I would disappoint or the belief that I was not worthy that kept me from being with a man who was kind and loving, giving and accepting?
I WONDER | what would have happened if the choices I’d like to have made actually came true? I have learned that those who you have in your life would have been there in one way or another so I know 100% that my children would be integral to my life, just possibly in a different form or relationship. It is the contract my soul signed when it returned. But why did it happen this way?
I WONDER | what it’s like to choose to spend a lifetime with your head in the sand?
I WONDER | if I really do have that book in me. I am told (regularly) by my girlfriends, who I keep entertained, that I should write a book. Sometimes I believe them, sometimes I think they’re simply humouring me.
I WONDER | where to go from here? I want to find a form of communication – blog, articles, stand-up, book, art, retreats, communion – that offers something to the world. Something necessary. Something missing. Something wondrous, and kind, and gritty, and encouraging, and authentic, and irreverent, and real.
All that wonder holds space for a few regrets. I believe regret is evidence of an imperfect life lived as fully as we are capable; a life well lived has to have a few dark spots in order to find true joy in the bright spots. Perfect is simple, boring and far too predictable. As far as mistakes? Well, they can’t be fixed retroactively, you can only adjust going forward. I believe with my whole heart that my children will benefit from all of the lessons in my past while they still have their own to learn.
I WONDER | what does the future hold?
Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby