“A hunch that you are the sum of those incidents only you can testify to, whose existence without you, would have no earthly acknowledgement” – Barbara Gowdy “The White Bone”
First of all, if you have never read this book, go read it right now. I should warn you that it is based entirely on the perspective of elephants…that’s right, the life and times of elephants. The beauty and syncronicity with people is astounding and breath taking. It was one of the novels I never got over. This is one of my favourite quotes and I came upon it cleaning out an old drawer as I have so many times over the years. It always makes me pause and really consider the weight of these words. Our time here on earth is measured and recorded by those we spend time with. Who we are, the impact we have had, the value of our lives is wrapped up snugly with the company we keep. I, myself, am a testament to the people I love and care about. I am also a testament to the ungodly events that have shaped me as much as the triumphs. It is a big responsibility when you examine it, being the story teller for so much and so many. I have blogged on here previously about my best friend and her relationship both to myself and others – this account becoming a part of who she is and how she she will be remembered. When we are gone, these stories will be the thing that says we ever existed. Our legacy. When you think about the enormity of that, it skips a heart beat in me. Our time here is so limited, our accomplishments become more and more limited as we make decisions and level setbacks and tragedies. There is often a saying that goes: You are only limited by your own mind. But I take some exception to that being that this theory I am evolving is that our minds and our lives are very much wrapped up in other minds and lives and that these concurrent connections can often be the limits we set on behalf of the well being or otherwise of people we hang out with.
The tributes of our lives can be both a gift and a burden. I have accepted since I was young the moniker of caregiver, soul saver, sacrificer, beast of burden. Bring me your dead and your dying…I’ll take all of them. I seem to have no ability to turn away the most bleak of souls; In fact, I often prefer their company. I think there is something beautiful about the metamorphosis of tragedy. Staying along side of someone who has been shot by horrific circumstances and their journey through open bleeding wounds to scarred impunity. Sweet freedom from ignorance. The ability to see all the colours of pain and emotional brevity – like childbirth, we forget and dare to live again with a subtle or sometimes not so subtle limp that presses us against all the other living injured. How not to impact people in negative ways? How not to fall prey to the selfish indignation that says we deserve more, better? What a delicate balance to be storied as brave or heroic or kind or helpful. As often as I have been claimed this, I have been equally described as cold or uncaring. My defensive wounds coming to light. But to ignore them, to ignore the creeping defences of others is almost ludacris – like inviting the evil in. You can only hope to meet your match in tragedies and scar tissue that you might have a chance of treading together in a way that does not constantly rip the wounds wide open again. And have what we all ultimately want…someone to tell the stories about you that you hope will be your memory, your earthly existence.
I wrote recently about my Grandmother, another story of existence. We had a strong bond her and I – we shared a great love of unique jewellery, beautiful clothes, books and flirting. She was fancy and I admired her. The way she never let a bad day stand in the way of a well put together outfit and some lipstick. When my Grandmother passed, she still had a tube of lipstick in her bra, in case a visitor stopped by, she could apply a pinch of colour. Even as she was dying, she was fancy, because she loved it and people loved that about her. And I tell that story about her because it wraps up for me the link we had while she was here. Her earthly existence was wrapped up in ball gowns she let me gingerly try on and feel against my cheek every Sunday. The stories she told me about every one and the feelings she experienced in and out of them. She told me once, I was just like her, and I remember thinking it was the nicest compliment I had ever received. I think that stands to this day and I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to be the bubbly and entertaining woman she was, to recreate the feeling she brought into a room with her smile and wit. Our stories build on stories and then some. I would never be what I am without her being who she was. A cousin once told me she didn’t know our Grandmother very well, couldn’t really tell you very much about her. I gasped as if she had slapped my face. How did she not know the kind and generous woman I had grown up with? How could someone be telling the story of my Grandmother so differently? These woven tapestries we create as we live are made exactly of that…stories as different as the colours of fabric sewn together with seemingly no connection. But it is presented simply as one long blanket of experience. Our legacies.
In the White Bone, Barbara Gowdy details the lives and deaths of elephants who have long been held to show intense bonds and protectiveness of each other parallel to humans. The above quote refers to the death of one of the elephants and the how the herd must process it, grieve it and move on. It is a heart wrenching passage. It reminds me that nothing on this planet is removed from the circle of life and that we are simply one passage in the story of everything. Humbling. But it keeps me mindful of what I want my passage to read when I’m gone and how I will have to live my life to achieve that. Mostly, that is all we will get as time passes and less and less people who knew us in the flesh are present – one line. I would like it to be one that isn’t easily forgotten.