Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Inventing the Truth by Rose McCormick Brandon
Recently, I wrote about a hospital stay. I was ten. Left in a big city facility by my parents. I begged my mother not to leave. Of course, she had to and I was forced to find my way among strangers for the first time in my life. That’s if I don’t count beginning school, an event that was more catastrophic for me than for most children.
In the children’s ward, I made friends. Most were mobile and reasonably healthy, except for the boy in the iron lung. This contraption appeared as harmless as a knocked-over garbage can but it wheezed like a dragon. By ten, I knew a lot about polio, the disease that had forced a boy my age inside the dragon.
I told the story of my hospital stay and the boy stuck inside the dragon as I remembered it, all the while, conscious that if I were to visit that children’s ward, and even if it hadn’t been remodeled since my stay, I likely wouldn’t recognize it. Its windows, walls, its cheery nursing staff, the pajama-clad children I scurried with after evening visiting hours are vivid in my mind Yet, I know if I connected with one of the other children, whose names are all forgotten, they would say, “That’s not how I remember it.”
Our memories are uniquely ours. We can tell our stories however we choose to because they are our memories. Another family member may say they remember it otherwise and tell the same story from their perspective. Both are valid.
Five people can attend the same event. Each one will leave with a different story. One has a conversation with a stranger that colors their entire experience. Another meets an old friend. One eavesdrops. One is aware of color, innuendo and drama. Another takes away facts only.
In writing our stories, we should be aware that someone else’s experience of the same event may differ. That doesn’t invalidate our take-away. And we must write it, not to please another person, but to let the reader know how our memory of a certain event has shaped us.
William Zinsser says, “Memoir is how we validate ourselves.” Therefore, our experiences must always remain our story. We have to get over the idea that someone else will read them and disagree with our take on how events unfolded.
About telling our stories, Annie Dilliard writes, “The act of writing about an experience takes so much longer and is so much more intense than the experience itself that you’re left only with what you have written, just as the snapshots of your vacation become more real than your vacation.”
I find that as Christians we can be so dedicated to a facts only view of life that we miss out on serendipitous experiences. We can write our personal stories freely only if we refuse to care who reads them.
My hospital story ended up being about the first time I realized that good writing hums. In the tiny children’s ward library, I discovered The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s words hummed in my chest – it was a marvelous discovery that lasted beyond my short hospital stay and remains with me today. I’m guessing that no other child in that hospital left with the same experience as I did.
Rose McCormick Brandon's latest book, Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children, was published in July, 2014. She has written many magazine articles for publications in Canada, U.S. and Australia.
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