Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"You're still you..."

"Time changes everything
One truth always stays the same
You're still you
After all
You're still you…"

- Josh Groban

My dad was a mystery to me.  A farm boy from a large immigrant Irish family of very humble means, his formal education was curtailed by the demands of agricultural seasons and crop schedules. By the time he was 30, he and mom had 6 children under the age of 10.  At 31 he was introduced to Christian Science and his desire to understand words he was reading about God, and the world around him, launched him on a personal quest for knowledge and wisdom. 

As the oldest child in my family, my dad and I were often (in those days as he took up his self-education where he had once left off) studying the same things.  Our reading levels advanced concurrently and I would often find him picking up my science or history textbooks when they were laying on the table during long homework sessions…and reading them.   His tools for self-instruction were as diverse as his interests.  I was neither surprised to see him with his nose in a volume of our World Book Encyclopedia (reading it through - page after page - like a novel) or a Nancy Drew mystery I had finished.

What always surprised me was his humility in letting us see him struggle with words that were new or foreign to him, and ask for help…or the dictionary…in order to self-solve the mysteries of language-usage or meaning.

When I was in high school I went through a very rough patch of self-doubt and loneliness.  I had always been a small child, girl, pre-teen, but with the onset of womanhood my body seemed to betray me.  All my new body parts seemed to appear over the course of one summer.  Unfortunately, it happened while I was away from all the kids I had only just met when we moved into the district just before the end of the previous school year.  In their eyes I went from being a skinny little kid to a young woman overnight…or at least over the summer. 

When I arrived back in school that September I was soft and round and I don't think there was an angular feature left on my once rather gangly body. Before I knew it rumors were swirling.  No one knew me well enough to deny the rumors as lies…in my defense, or to come to me and ask whether they were true…for themselves.

As a new kid I was a blank canvas for painting a titillating picture on…and my new rounder, softer body provided the paint for doing just that.  Of course, it all added up to a fantabulous story in which my parents must have moved our family away from wherever we had lived to this small farming community, because I was in the early stages of pregnancy.   Over the summer I must have had the baby, and I was still padded with post-baby fullness.  It didn't help that my mother had just given birth to twins (yes, numbers 7 and 8) and they didn't look anything alike.  One of them must have been mine…right?  Wrong!

When I finally became aware of what was being said, I was devastated.   I remember coming home after school that day and wanting to quit school and never go back.  I went to my bed and picked up the "autograph dog" I had sewn together from two panels of pale blue gingham printed with the front and back images of a floppy eared puppy and stuffed with poly-fill.  These were popular at my former school and everyone would bring them in to have their friends autograph.  I had made one for myself over the summer, but the only autographs I had on it were from my parents and my two sisters who were old enough o write in cursive.

I hugged it to my chest and tried to pray.  But nothing really helped.  At one point, I looked at my dog and there, written in my dad's pretty horrible handwriting, were the words "She walks in beauty and grace like the night - Dad."  Something about
his writing of those words made me feel braver about everything.  I felt like I could walk with my head held high knowing that what was being said about me wasn't true.  I felt an inner elegance and dignity that looking in the mirror, and seeing the all too obvious reason for the rumors, didn't give me.

I went back to school the next day...and the next.  The rumor blew over with some help from my parents, and I ended up loving my school year and the friends I eventually made.  

The blue gingham dog moved through my young adulthood with me from room to apartment to house.  The ink from my parents' and sisters' autographs faded.  I never let another person sign that dog and if I close my eyes, still today, I can see that exact shade of turquoise-y blue gingham with those four autographs in faded black ball-point pen as if I were holding it in my hands. 

It was years before I discovered that my dad had quoted Lord Byron (adding the word grace) in his autograph.  When I did, it made me cry.  I never knew he had read, and loved, Byron well enough to quote him.  It was such a new and different view of my dad.  His addition of the word "grace" is still a gift.  He was not an emotionally expressive kind of guy...and we had our issues and differences, but to think that he chose such a word in thinking of me, and that he'd had the audacity to insert it into a quote by a famous poet makes me smile. He must have trusted a Voice that told him that his own inspiration and ideas were as valid and immutable as Byron's.  His use of the word "grace" still gives
me courage when navigating through rough waters and facing down my own demons. 

I would like to think that no matter what mistakes we make, or misunderstandings we face…whatever rumors may swirl or fears may poke at soft places in our hearts where we feel vulnerable or fragile, we
all have a Father who is constantly writing His message of Love on our hearts telling us that, in His eyes, no matter what, "You're still you…after all, you're still you."

with Love,


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