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Monday, March 18, 2013

The Memory of Love ~ Finding Wholeness



When the four-year-old daughter of Frank Bures, contributing editor to Poets & Writers, asked him to tell her about the sad and scary parts of his life, he did.  As a writer and editor he understood the power of narrative, yet he didn’t understand why his daughter listened so intently to every story “as if her life depended on it.”  And then he realized she was really asking, How do you live in a world with sadness and fear? And how can I?

He tells this anecdote in his article “The Secret Lives of Stories: Rewriting Our Personal Narratives” (P&W, Jan/Feb issue, 2013).  He points out that the underlying, utilitarian reason humans are hardwired to tell stories might be because our survival depends on knowing WHAT CAUSES WHAT—a skill even the most sophisticated computer does not yet have. 

In Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder tells about trying to write a war memoir about the time he spent in Vietnam when he was twenty-three.  “During the first year after I came home, I told a few stories that suggested dark memories of combat.”  But he hadn’t been in combat and was embarrassed by his indoor job in communications.  Unable to write the memoir, he set the idea aside.  And every year for fifteen years he dreamed that he received orders to go back to Vietnam.  It wasn’t until he finally formed a more truthful relationship between who he was then and who he is now, that he could write the memoir.  He hasn’t had a single nightmare since. 

I just finished reading Linda Olssons beautiful and unassuming novel, The Memory of Love.  Two parallel stories, about the same woman but at different times in her life, unfold almost like the unfurling of a leaf—the underside less glossy, more vulnerable, hidden from view.  The first story is told through the eyes of Marion, a woman in her early fifties living on the rugged coast of New Zealand. Her heart opens unexpectedly when she finds Ika, a forlorn, abused boy lying face down on the beach.  The second story, told in third person, is about young Marianne.  This childhood story rises from the pages as organically as it rises unbidden from older Marion’s subconscious. 

Young Marianne’s story is filled with the same questions that the daughter of editor Frank Bures asked.  How do you live in a world with sadness and fear? How can I?  But young Marianne had no father to ask.  She could not make sense of a world where WHAT CAUSES WHAT had no causal relationship.  The world was an unkind place and the only way to survive was to separate from herself.  Marianne became Marion. 

Yesterday at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, Cara Lopez Lee and I hosted a Sunday writing salon, TheMemoir Mansion: Truth Dwells in Many Rooms.  We talked about how we had each structured our memoirs, Cara’s a braiding together of three different strands in her life, mine following more the pattern of what Joseph Campbell referred to as The Hero’s Journey in his book Hero with a Thousand Faces. 

Campbell teaches us that the kingdom of the divine world and the kingdom of the human world are actually one.  “The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know.”

The forgotten dimension.  I sometimes refer to this as “the place where two stories meet.”  It is the place where Marianne and Marion meet.  Where the young solder from the Vietnam War finally met the older, seasoned Pulitzer-winning author—where Tracy Kidder met Tracy Kidder.  It is the place I tried to find in the first story I wrote at the age of 13 on a train leaving Rome in 1965. It is the place I searched for when writing In Search of Kinship. It is the place I search for even now as I write this.

When we are brave enough to seek this hidden dimension—to find the beauty in the pain, the grace within the fall from grace, the god within the beast, the prayer within the unholy—our stories begin to unfurl fully, revealing the side of ourselves that reaches toward the light, and the side of ourselves that knows only darkness.  It is the place of Wholeness, the place of Joy. 

Note: The Memory of Love is a 2013 Penguin USA Paperback Original. 

9 comments:

Susan Gabriel said...

I just bought your Kinship book, Page, and look forward to reading it. I lived in Fort Collins for several years before returning to the southeast and have subscribed to your blog since then. I always look forward to your posts.

Page Lambert said...

Thank you, Susan. What a lovely note to read first thing in the morning! I hope you enjoy KINSHIP.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely done!

Jared

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Blog....Thank you Page!
warmly, Karen

Barbara Snow said...

Thanks, Page, for raising the question yet again. It is so applicable to today. I love your work.

Anonymous said...

Such nourishing reading for spring. Thanks Page, A beautiful season to you, in that wholeness that keeps us real.
Rae

Page Lambert said...

Barbara, thank you for the kind words. I'm so pleased we connected at the poetry workshop at while back.

Gail Storey said...

What a poignant post, Page, goes straight to the heart, as does all your writing. I find it a profound paradox that the "hidden dimension" is in the present moment, where the truest stories are.

Page Lambert said...

Gail, thank you. I like the paradox you point out ... yes, the present moment, also imbued with the past, is where our bodies (and thus our minds) tap into our greatest truths. Thank you.