Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Vaya Con Dios, Carla

If you know a person long enough you'll find that you never stop being surprised by them...by the things they've done in the past and many tiny facets to a life that, on the outside, looks pretty ordinary. I remember reading the obituary of an elderly neighbor which revealed that had been an athlete in the Olympics during the 1930's. To us, he had just been the guy who emerged at Halloween to slip candy into our kids' sacks. Last year, I read some letters that my grandmother had sent to her brother while she (along with my grandfather, my father and his sister) were living in France. In one letter she detailed an evening at a club in Paris' Left Bank where the writer Gertrude Stein was the Mistress of Ceremonies of some event being held there.

Like I said...surprises come even when you think you know that person as well as anyone can and especially when you don't.

I sat through a funeral yesterday. It was not unexpected. One more damned breast cancer statistic. A woman whose life was far from over...even as she hovered near the literal end for many weeks. Were it not for the fact that someone in my family had married the way he did, I would never have known this woman for most of my life. We were raised in different cities and went to college in different places. Even after marriage and kids, we did not live in the same town until just a few years ago, but the flurry of lunches and family get togethers and phone calls made me feel as though we were making up for the time apart.

Yet as I listened to her best friends stand to eulogize her, I realized I didn't really know her at all...at least...the thought dawned on me that the portion of her that I knew well was the portion that everyone else knew, too. As a family member, it was clear to me that her friends knew her best and the stories and anecdotes were stunning in their number and diversity.

The stories I could tell were few and certainly nothing earth shattering and I now know that any confidence she felt she could tell me had already reached her inner circle of friends long before me. Whether by accident of birth or geography or bad timing or other preconceptions we had about one another or the families we came from, fate kept us from fully knowing the other or being fully known in turn. Love...yes...we loved each other, but I doubt now that I could really say we knew each other.

Death comes in many forms. The most obvious one is when life on Earth ends. The death of possibility is another. The possibility that two people will know the innermost heart of the other is one more. Sitting in that church yesterday I heard my cousin described to me in ways I never knew. I learned from the people with whom she confided the fact that she knew she was losing ground with cancer...even as she so breezily told me and other family members of another new treatment. I never saw her cry about it or lose her calm and positive outlook. All the time I thought she wasn't facing the grim facts she was actually making plans for her short future. She knew exactly what was going on...she just didn't tell me.

So yesterday it hit me: I didn't just lose the person I knew. I also lost the person I NEVER knew. I don't say this in a whining kind of way. I'm saying this in a stunned sort of way. She was an amazing person...but I only had the tiniest notion of just how amazing. Apparently her friends were lucky enough to have a ringside seat to witness her brilliance, her humor, her Zen calm in the face of the bad hand she was dealt. Familial chaos of late and a general lack of communcation on the part of many of us is mostly responsible for the many things I'll never know about her. But I also think that this little event in my life points to the unacknowledged truth that we can't know everything about everyone. Still...there's no excuse for not knowing your family. I guess that's what I'm trying to say.

So...my mission is to begin asking questions. To know the people in my life as well as I can. To those family members who just found out about my blog? You guys should be prepared for this as well. You were there yesterday and maybe you know what I'm talking about. Because while I might lose family to death in the literal sense, I don't want to let another moment go by without knowing about the stuff that makes you fulfilled or sad or curious and I want you to know the same about me. I'll start. I hated "The Bridges of Madison County".

There. Now it's your turn.


Blogger Iselyahna said...

I hate grape flavoring, I'm afraid of fire and bugs, and I absolutely love reading.

My secret desire is to become an author.

Who's next?

9:51 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...


Since I started my blog, I've had many friends and relatives from home tell me that now they feel they REALLY know me.

There's much I can say in writing that I can't ever say or convey in conversation. The truth is, most social settings aren't conducive to real communication.

The problem with blogging for me though is that many of my friends and family soak up all the info on my site and seldom share anything of themselves. In fact, with few exceptions, I hear from them less now than EVER. Most of the people that comment online or send e-mails are blogging buddies.

Finally, let me just say I thought the book The Bridges of Madison County was poorly written, stupid, and a giant load of insipid crap. I loved the Doonesbury strips that satirized it.

I thought the movie with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood was pretty good, infinitely better than the overhyped, romantic, pseudo-mystical novel.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Wow, what a loving tribute.

Hmm, well I blather on way too much about me on my own blog (and see what v-grrrl says about people knowing more about me because of my blog than I know about them.

I'm not afraid of bugs at all, except june bugs, cockroaches, and these bugs I have no idea what they're called but they're creepy and have lots of legs (no, not milipedes).

4:38 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I hated that movie too. I hated "The Great Gatsby" and artificial strawberry flavouring makes me gag.

But I love strawberries. Real ones.

5:35 AM  
Anonymous donna said...

This must be the day to come out against Bridges of Madison County. I also hated the book and the movie.

I hate peas, I can't burp and I always cry when I watch the movie Rudy.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

Sometimes I think the people in our family are the ones we know the least. They're certainly the ones with the greatest ability to surprise us with revelations.

I never read _The Bridges of Madison County_.

5:53 AM  
Blogger daysgoby said...

Oooh, good one! I hate strawberry flavor too. And watermelon? Watermelon flavor doesn't even pretend to taste like watermelon! Whose idea was that??

Beautiful post. I am amazed at the power of your words.

Hmm, lets see....

I am addicted to iced tea and pumpkin seeds.
I still don't see the attraction that Patrick Swayze holds, and my mother and I fight about politics and the role God should play in my life.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

You said it very well. I barely knew Carla and I already knew that. I just didn't realize how much I missed by not knowing her until her friends spoke. (I also didn't know how talented Tom is!)

One thing I truly love is travel. Of course I like seeing new places, living someone else's place for a time, but what I love about travel is the anticipation. I love cruising for hotels, making lists of restaurants to try, places to see, things to take. I love the going almost more than the getting there.

One thing I'm really afraid of is not living my life in a way that matters. So far I don't think I've done that too well (what will they say about me at my funeral??)

And I hate bermuda grass that crawls into my garden under cover of night, knowing full well that it's not supposed to be there.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Nilbo said...

Lovely thoughts about the people in our lives. For whatever reason, it reminded me of a farmer friend of mine whose daughter got married. It was a big wedding. "Geez," he said. "I didn't know there were so many people I didn't know." I know the thought is only tangential to yours, but it amuses me to remember it.

I think "The English Patient", "The Life of Pi" and pretty much anything by Margaret Atwood is pretentious, overwritten crap.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Daxohol said...

What a hugely touching post.

This family "knowing each other" topic is one that really hits home for me.

Thanks for writing about it!

As a child I was severly asthmatic. I grew out of it. I only discovered that I could sing last year.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

Wonderful, wonderful and more wonderful. I'm sorry for your losses -- all the ones you mentioned -- and grateful to you for sharing your new mission as a reminder that we should all make more of an effort.

We don't know each other at all outside of blog posts, so here's my start: I avoid fruits and vegetables at almost all costs. And Barbra Streisand in any way-shape-or-form provokes irrational rage and revulsion on my part. And yet, my husband finds her "beautiful." How did that happen??

8:45 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Wordgirl, I know exactly the feeling you are speaking of, and I am so sorry for the loss of your family member.

Artificial rose-scent makes me want to gag, and sometimes I can be a bit of a literary snob. I never even read "The Bridges of Madison County." And it certainly sounds as if I never will!

9:20 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Sorry for your loss! What a great tribute your post was though. You really made me think when you talked about not even realizing what you lost because there were so many things you didn't know about her. As for me, I'm still searching for that thing that makes me feel like I add value.

9:21 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

I had bronchitis twice a year when I was young...until I was about twelve and outgrew it. My mom always acted as though I was dying. Every time I get a cold she acts as though I'm going to develop pneumonia and die. She enjoys telling a stories about how, as an infant, I choked constantly. My parents checked my breathing all of the time with a little hand mirror. Then one day they had to take me to the emergency room because I was choked so much. That story has fed the mythology that I was a sickly baby with poorly developed lungs. In reality, my parents were feeding me water. Water in a baby bottle is something most pediatricians will tell you is bad for newborns. Even though the explanation for my choking is there, I know it sounds far more dramatic to imagine I was really ill. My mother still tells the emergency room story and then I have to gently remind her that what they were feeding me was causing the choking episodes. It's not something they enjoy taking responsibility for...even if they were just following doctor's orders.

Just like the myth that my mother has Native American blood, which persists long after we've proven that she does not, I still have to remind her.

I don't think Mom likes me very much when I screw up her stories.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

Great post!!

I'm always looking for blue roses. I hate loving my father. New Years makes me sad. I don't regret anything. I don't know the first thing about knitting or playing chess. I like shooting guns.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

A wonderful post and tribute to your relative. I sometimes feel like even I don't know the real me because I'm a constant pleaser.

Here's my confession: as much as I hate Bush and everything he represents and the way his admin is screwing up our country, I admit that we'd probably have a good old time if we were to hang out with some beers. And I thought Saving Private Ryan was 3 hours of gratuitous violence and gore with a crap plot.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Annie, The Evil Queen said...

I was just thinking this very thing earlier in the weekend. I'm constantly surprised by my family and friends. I suppose I surprise them too. I think sometimes we don't share as much with our familes for fear of being judged or getting into an argument.

I love to read but am a bit of a book snob. I typically don't read anything that is a "romance" or stuff by authors like Danielle Steel. I did not read Bridges, mostly because I felt that adultery is not a romantic notion. But that could just be me.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous sweatpantsmom said...

What a beautiful post. It really hit home - I just attended the funeral of a cousin as well, one that I didn't know very well at all.

At the lunch afterwards, I, too, found out many things about him I didn't know, and had the honor of sitting next to his best friend who shared many memories of him with me.

And yes, what a wake-up call, to begin to get to know my family members more intimately, before it's too late.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can do you one better annie, I didn't even know Tom existed until the visitation.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Just noticed that your sidebar has migrated down so that it starts after your last post ends. Same thing has happened to me even though I use a different blogger template. any idea what's going on??? So annoyed with Blogger lately!

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Irene said...

what a great post.

12:01 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Dearest Wordgirl,

I feel like I know you but I think it would be surprising and wonderful to know you in the flesh (not in the Biblical sense, settle down).

I think ALL of our friends and family members are this way. Doesn't matter how close you are, someone else will know them differently than we do. Its all perspective.

Okay - you know I hate Goat Cheese, and I love bananas but hate banana flavored things. I loved the movie "Princess Bride" because deep down I want to believe in the fairy tale...and magic.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Shrinking Violet said...

Further research has been conducted and actually there is a small trace of Native American in your mother's family. Love you. Never read 'Bridges' or watched the movie. Hate 'The Flintstones'.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Lucky Lum said...

Man, that was quite a thought provoking post.
Terribly sad as well.

I despised The Great Gatsby.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

Love this post WG and I agree with everything V-grrrl said in her comment. Having recently met someone in person who would be a total stranger to me if not for our blogs, it is even more true for me.

I've never read Wuthering Heights and I say I hate reality TV, but secrety watch the worst and cheesiest shows if they happen to be on when I'm flipping through the channels.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I thought The Notebook (the book) was the sappiest piece of crap ever. But I can't believe I liked the movie.

(Yet more lovely writing from you that I have missed...)

9:49 PM  

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