It’s so easy to lose oneself in a story.
We’ve all been there: the plan to read a little before bed keeps you up turning pages half the night.
You sink your social life for days or weeks in a row spending every free moment on successive volumes (or episodes) of a book (or TV) series.
I have a friend who gets so wrapped up in her reading, she does so while brushing her teeth.
But then, the next thing you know, far too quickly, the story is over.
It’s even easier to lose yourself when that story is the one still being written each day of your life. Even easier still when it’s the life of someone else who’s close to you.
The story of my father’s life – particularly those aspects from my early childhood – rest in my brain like a gripping story read too fast.
With brilliant clarity I recall the major plot points, the twists and turning points, the emotional impact of the abovementioned.
As for the numerous intervening events, however, while grasping the main gist of them, my recollection of specifics is much more foggy and much less sequential, as if I’d never expected to have to recall them at all. As if I’d long taken for granted my ability to go straight to the source to help me remember.
I’ve always had a spotty memory like that, unlike my sister, who has the mind of an archivist. Even when it comes to my own life, I’m constantly trading old memories for newer ones like a messaging app set on auto-delete.
And this is only for the parts of the story I knew to begin with – those in which I was an active participant or bystander.
I once had a friend who was unexpectedly rocked one day by the realization that his own father had an entire undercurrent of his life, both past and present, that didn’t involve him.
His father’s identity, this friend came to recognize, was far richer and held much deeper motivation than just that of his role as a parent. So much so, in fact, that there were aspects of his personality and life that my friend knew almost nothing about, and perhaps never would.
I had a similar revelation in 2011 while visiting my uncle – my father’s brother – in England.
He told me a wonderful story from my father’s youth – one with the unexpected ring of Robin Hood.
In this story, my own father, fed up with the ongoing schoolyard oppression of his peers, gave a known bully a fistful of his own bitter medicine before deciding he’d had enough of school altogether and shoving off on a sailboat bound for the island of St. Kitts and adventure.
When I later questioned my dad about this – about why he’d never told me about such a thrilling event in his life – he said it occurred so long ago, it had never occurred to him to share it.
It makes me wonder how many other great backstories and subplots he never thought to tell me, and I never thought to delve into.
I’ll now have to rely on accounts from others more than ever.
Upon deeper reflection, I think it’s proper for children to not know everything about their parents – that parents retain their hidden layers and a semblance of mystique – just as parents shouldn’t know all this is to know about their children.
The life of a passed away parent is not some first edition volume high on a shelf behind glass. It’s not ours for the keeping and for our sole particular use, locked away in our personal library forever.
Rather, their stories live on out in the world in as many people as a book has pages, in bits and pieces in the hearts and memories of everyone who interacted with them. Their legacy is spread far and wide like a good story should be, with as many interpretations are there are people to speak of it.
And because of this, even though all real life stories eventually end, they never truly die.
(Image source: J.G. Noelle)