I mentioned in a blip of my last month’s post that I had several isolated days at my grandparents home this summer. The forces (including my mother, my in-laws, the heavens above, and the calendering masters of my university) conspired together to give me the opportunity, motivation, and some time alone to write my deceased grandmother’s history this summer. I’m still too much in the sacred space of creation and the hard slog of work to share, or say “look what I’ve done!” No, that would still be presumptive at this point- there are still chapters to write, ideas to shape and logistics to figure. I mention it as context, and justification for why I’ve been rifling her papers and journals.
Buried in the bottom of a wee handmade cedar jewelry box I discovered my grandmother’s patriarchal blessing. The patina of the paper indicated it’s frequent handling. It was the original transcription, made by her own mother in 1950. Where I found the box in the closet I knew it hadn’t been touched for some time. My grandmother had passed away two years ago, and been sick for several months prior. Solemnly pulling the box from its safe storage I sat down on her bed where I had not sat since she was there in the bed, resting beside me as I rubbed her hands and feet, tears slipping down my face, knowing I had to leave, and she would too.
I wondered if I was violating something personal and a still space, sitting there again and opening the papers. A calm pacified me, and an excitement to know my grandma better won out; I began reading. One line struck me: “Think well of yourself.” I would have never thought of my grandmother as someone to need that admonition. She wasn’t over confident or self-disrespecting. She was a woman who knew her gifts, and played them to the best of her ability to the betterment of herself and others. The line continues, cautioning that others would never view her better than she rated herself. I don’t know how my grandmother may have needed that advice, but I am certain she wore it into her soul as she read the blessing regularly. Perhaps I should wear it well into mine too. I think I need it.
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During a recent return trip to our old stomping grounds in Baltimore my husband and I had the pleasure of dining with friends we love and admire. The evening was a cluster more good conversations that I could engage in in the time I had. At my bidding everyone went around the room catching us up on the their lives and activities. They asked the same about my life and oohed and clapped at all the right places. Yet, marveling at their successes, radiance, and the loveliness of the evening I wondered at my luckiness that these neat people let me call them friends. Driving away that night, I conceded to my husband that I felt like a bit of a charlatan; and as though I am only playing at what I do comparative to our brilliant friends.
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My first semester back in school, taking the obligatory literary theory class for my English master’s program: I am barely keeping my head above water trying to my brain make sense of the dense academic readings. In class I put on a charade; I am certain my slow wit will be discovered at any moment. It doesn’t help that the class has almost no checkpoints and grades prior to the final paper. Fearing doom, I turn in the paper the last possible minute. When my grade it posted weeks later, I’m tempted to magnet the evidence to the fridge to remind myself its real, I’m so baffled I have an A.
* * *
I feel like I’m always doubting my worthiness. That I’m giving what I can, and I’m certain that inadequate sum is inadequate. I read my own patriarchal blessing and wonder how those words and offerings could really play out. How do I think well of myself? And not constantly insult my own efforts? How do I weigh that balance between humility and personal esteem?
Two weeks ago, I hauled myself, my kids and my computer up to my parents house for a few days so I could take some time to write my grandmother’s story while my mother kept the kids fed and from harming each other. Sitting down at dinner my mother, who occasionally shows symptoms of my own disease, personal dissatisfaction, announced that her creations weren’t quite what she had hoped: to herself, to everyone around the table and my sister who texted in during the meal. It tasted good, filled me up, and she made it for me so I could work- I was more than satisfied. After similar validation from my father, with only two bites to go, my mother relented, and released herself: she didn’t mind the flaws, and liked the dish after all. I laughed enjoying the humor of the meal, and watching my mother play out what appears to be a family trait.
Yeah, I’m familiar with that dissatisfaction with my works; but often I see how that resistance to satiety pushes me to try harder and work for more; it doesn’t always function as a negative. When my mother first asked me to take on this project and write text to my grandmother’s life I was baffled how to do it, and doubted my ability to capture her struggles, goodness and love in my own words. I took those questions to my prayers and the thoughts I roll around in my head at night as I contemplated the logistics of the project. I knew I couldn’t do enough to adequately convey all she did and was, but I needed to do it anyway. Elbows deep in the project, I still think that.
I don’t have to be fully satisfied with my achievements or even my meager attempts to put words to my grandmother’s life, it’s okay to ask more of myself. But I do need to be kind to myself, and not let those constructive criticisms of my accomplishments be destructive assessments of myself. My grandmother wore the paper that divine caution was printed on well with frequent handling. Sitting there on her bed, holding that same paper in my own hands, I sense her there in the empty space beside me: nodding and smiling– Yes, please, think well of yourself, but keep working.