April 2018

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer #23: One must know when to stop.

Summer #23 Two questions have compelled me throughout my life, and they are questions I have often often framed for my students: "Who am I?" and "What is my dream?" I remember that the essay question on Davidson College's application the year I applied was, "Who are you and why?" My response began confidently, "I am a child of the seventies...." A truer response, I think, was to the first assignment in my high school sophomore English class: "Create a symbol of yourself." My symbol, wisely I think now, was collage of photos formed into a large question mark. I thought then as I think now, "I contain multitudes." That question mark hung on the teacher's wall, forgotten by everyone but me I suppose, all year, and challenged me daily: Who am I and why is this question so impossible for me to answer?

I like Sandra Cisneros's metaphor of Esperanza's self as a series of wooden dolls that fit inside one another, each ourselves at one age, and each age still a part of who we are.

When I lived in Dallas, my friend George, who was a medical student then and I hear is a psychiatrist now, gave me a couple of riddles, of tests, designed to help a person know who they are. I don't remember them exactly, but they went something like this: Riddle #1 consisted of three questions to which a person needed to write an extended response. Each of the three questions was, "If you were an animal, what animal would you be?" As I remember, your first response is how you see yourself, the second how others see you and the third how you really are. Riddle #2 also comprised three questions: #1: If you were an animal, what animal would you be? #2: Descibe your favorite body of water and #3: Imagine that you are naked, in a white room. There is light in the room, but no clear source of that light. There are no windows and no doors, only four white walls, a white floor and a white ceiling. It is silent. Describe how you feel.

Try it and see what you discover.

If I were an animal, I would be a cat. Really, I am a cat. I like to nap in the sun and run around when I feel like it. Sometimes, I will allow you to pay attention to me, but only when I feel like it. Otherwise, I am preoccupied chasing butterflies and such. I, however, do not carry dead rodents in my mouth. And I do not pee in a litter box.

My favorite body of water is the ocean. It is deep, mysterious, and complex. The life that teems beneath the surface cannot be guessed at from a distance. It is strong and steady. Waves reach perpetually for the shore. At times it is playful, and at other times it is beautifully chaotic.

In this white room,  I breathe deeply. I rest. I feel at peace.

As I remember, the animal reveals how you see yourself. The water reveals how you feel about sex. Your feelings about the white room reveal how you feel about death. I don't know if any of this is true, but I find it interesting to think about: who am I, really?

Some of my favorite people are those who see in me what I want to be true about myself. On her sixieth birthday, my friend Rita wrote a kind of a "Who's who?" for the people at her party. About me, she said, "Mary lives her beliefs." I want that to be true of me.

My recent student Yessicaa wrote a note to me when she graduated: "You're very kind, helpful, caring and motivating. Thanks to your caring heart I realized that there are people out there who care for me and discovered how special teachers can be in a student's life." This I want to be true of me as well, and I am graced that someone has seen that in me and shown me to myself in such a kind mirror.

I think about whether these tumors have changed who I am. They have certainly changed my life. Who am I? I am a survivor, the disabled woman down the road, Ann's partner, my parents' child, a sister, an aunt, a cousin. I am a teacher, a writer, a friend, an adventurer, a child of grace.

Thanks for staying with me as I've shared myself in this blog. In the sharing, I am discovering, and in that discovering you have been a support, an ear (or an eye), a kind friend. As Lao Tsu wrote centuries ago, "One must know when to stop," and I think it's time to stop this blog now, but the questions and the life and the grace persist. With love. Mary


  1. Last blog?! Oh man! (But beautiful entry, Mary.)

  2. Well, now, this is disappointing news. I have loved your blog... it has been a way for me to catch up with you and to learn what is in your head and in your heart... without having to make any effort myself. I imagine that it has required a tremendous effort on your part, so I can understand why you might want to stop (you mean you have other things to do, aside from keeping little sister amused??) well thank you, it has all been an incredible gift, you are very smart, and very funny, so self-deprecating and insightful too. i guess i will just have to make more of an effort myself to draw out these gems on more of a one on one basis. (caller id, anyone??)

  3. Mary, That you've shared this part of your life with us has been a real gift. Thank you!

  4. Your fans will only allow you to stop blogging if you promise to write that book.

  5. Mary, you've offered plenty to ponder and prompted some well-needed chuckles. Thanks for the insight.

  6. Wow. Great closing entry! I didn't realize you were bringing this to a close (and on our photo day, even, I must've missed that detail in the midst of all of our discussion ...)

    I'm glad I'm your friend, and look forward to sharing more of our lives together in person.
    Much love to you,

  7. A tear rolled down my cheek as I read this. But then I remembered that it is good to cry--it keeps depression at bay. Hmm. Where did I learn that? Ah yes, Mary's blog! But Mary's blog is ending. Another tear. And so it goes.

    Thank you for the gift of this blog. I will miss it but I know you'll continue to share your wisdom over cold beers (or even a warm stout).



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