In Part 2 of this blog post I related how my fifth grade principal, mistaken in his belief that I was laughing at him (I was laughing at a classmate’s joke), struck me eight or ten times with his open hand. My mother had promised to take action if anyone ever abused me, but I told her what the principal had done and she never went to confront him. Considering who she was, how bravely she faced so many other circumstances, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t go. Years later, it remained with me as a perplexing instance when my mother said one thing but did another.
With the passage of time, in this case three or four decades, I gradually began to put this story beside other stories and see a very different picture. In that time women certainly weren’t treated as equals. Many career paths simply weren’t open to my mother. In addition, my parents were divorced. All in all, she may have decided to pick her struggles wisely and concluded this vain (and obese) principal with his old guard, country club friends would never apologize and might even be vindictive.
I realized how frustrating it must have been for her to be limited because she was a woman. How thwarted she must have felt to need a husband to take an active role in business or stand up to a man like the principal.
A few years earlier, at midlife, she had gone to college to get a teaching degree so she could earn a living. When I was nine, she took a year off from college to create abusiness making placemats. Money was always tight. She tried to borrow for the business, but she couldn’t. Eventually it failed for lack of capital. All this had been going on during the time I asked her to go to the principal.
I’ll never know exactly what went through her mind, but I no longer think of her as having failed me. Rather, I see the difficulty of her situation and how she tried in so many ways to move her life—and mine—forward.
So the event, the blows showering down on me, remains the same, but its meaning is transformed. And with new meaning comes a reshaping of my story. Was it untruthful before? Is it fully truthful now? With each metamorphosis of a life story we shape anew the past and our own lives.