I have been reading Natalie Goldberg’s book, Old Friend from Far Away:The Practice of Writing Memoir. I love Goldberg’s books and love how she gives practical yet challenging writing assignments. Yesterday, I read this on page 105:
“What did you know in your heart one day in July, 1990? Don’t hesitate. Go. Ten minutes.”
I didn’t have an instant recollection of what my heart knew in 1990, but as soon as I read this assignment, I started to cry. Tears are usually a sure sign for me that something matters so I quickly closed the book and tried to avoid the question all together. The avoidance thing isn’t usually a good solution for me so after a few minutes, I sighed, opened my computer and started to write.
My writing started with something like this:
In July of 1990, I was a recent Vanderbilt graduate and was getting ready to move from Oklahoma to Baltimore to start teaching 3rd grade. I was excited and strangely enough not the least bit scared and couldn’t wait to make a difference and possibly change the world.
I sighed again and scolded myself and asked for something a little more authentic and real and truthful. I continued:
I think my heart knew how great it would be to go ahead and buy that Jeep Wrangler that I always wanted, but my practical, rule following self talked me out of it.
Followed by this:
I am pretty sure that deep down, my heart knew that only wearing Laura Ashley dresses when I needed to dress up really wasn’t always the best fashion choice, but I wore them anyway because they were easy, comfortable and since I had 7 hanging in my closet, how many more dresses did I really need anyway?” (Side note: my 16 year old daughter laughed when she saw this picture and wondered aloud how I ever left the house thinking, “This looks really good.”
I sat for a minute and then wiped the smirk off of my face. I knew that I needed to dig a little deeper with this assignment, so I went upstairs and found my journal from 1990. I chuckled as I looked through all of my 22 year old thoughts and cringed a little too because as much as I have always said I am not a fan of “pat, cliche answers,” I found a lot of those in my journal.
I sat down at my computer again and wrote,
It is hard for me to write about what my heart knew in 1990 because all I keep thinking about is what my heart didn’t know. It didn’t know that within three years of moving to Baltimore, I would experience the joy of marrying Steve, but eight months later experience the death of my sweet dad. It didn’t know that the future would hold moments of pain and loneliness and uncertainty and loss. It didn’t know that I would slowly stop believing that I could change the world and make a difference and settle into some kind of living that involved being comfortable and letting fear make a lot of my decisions. It didn’t know that on some days, I might even lose myself for awhile in the process.
So I sat in those thoughts all day yesterday and felt pretty lousy by 8 pm. I woke up this morning and prayed for a bit and thought about the writing assignment and heard this. “You didn’t do the assignment. You wrote about what your heart DIDN’T know. You need to reconsider what your heart DID know. Did you even read any of your 1990 journal or did you just make fun of yourself?”
I grabbed my journal and looked at it. I decided that one thing my heart knew then was that journaling and prayer have great value and I am so thankful that I recorded all that my 22 year old heart was processing (even if some of what I wrote seems to have been influenced by a quiet fear that someone might read my journal so I better make it sound good and spiritual.)
As I read my old journal entries today, I saw that my heart knew that I wanted to love well, to know God more, and to seek truth. On that July day in 1990, I had been babysitting, which included watching Bambi and reading The Velveteen Rabbit. I wrote that I loved the part where Margery Williams writes:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
In 1990, my heart knew it wanted to be real and was trying to figure out what that might look like. It really didn’t matter what it didn’t know. It was good to remind my heart about that today. What about you? What did your heart know in 1990? What does it know now?