For the Week of April 9, 2018: “Who We Were; Who We Have Become”

Why should we travel back, who’ve come so far— 

We know who we are.  

How can we be the same 

As those quaint ancestors we have left behind, who share our name— 

(From:  “Written on the eve of my 20th high school reunion, which I was not able to attend” by A.E. Stallings, In:  Poetry, 2008)

The Facebook privacy debacle has me considering whether or not to delete my personal Facebook page, and this morning’s news that the former co-founder of  Apple, Steve Wozniak, triggered another bout of “should I or shouldn’t I?  It’s been ten years since I joined the social networking giant, done at the suggestion of my daughters.  With our immediate family spread over three different countries, it was a great way of keeping up with the photographs and anecdotes of our three young grandchildren as well as their parents’ adventures.  Gradually, however, the fun of connecting became increasingly cluttered with unwanted political commentary, humorous posts, sometimes of questionable taste, shared publicly, a constant flurry ads, news flashes and requests for “friending” from dozens of people I never knew.  That’s when I gradually began “downsizing” my posts and increasing my privacy settings.  With the addition of Facebook’s messenger, I was hopeful that I could engage with family and a few friends more privately, but that quickly changed. Everyone, it seemed, whose name was on my “Friends” list were listed as contacts on my Messenger list–uninvited and unwanted.  The growing clutter of names, shared posts, ads, questionable “news” and the constant search for ways to minimize all intrusions had become a nuisance.  Then the news broke over Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s intrusions into its followers’ privacy.

Last night I revisited all my privacy settings for the umpteenth time before deciding to download all the information Facebook had accumulated on me.  Were it not for the fact that my younger daughter and her family are returning to Japan for a minimum of three years, I likely would have hit the “delete my account” button after the Facebook download, but I hesitated. Our Facebook chats and shared photos became a rich source of connectedness during the family’s previous five year stay in Okinawa.  I dawdled, putting off any decision.  Without any intent to do so,  I’d ambled into the territory of the Facebook sites of old high school friends, and as I wandered from one person’s page to another, a short note “Hi Sharon!” appeared in real time from a high school buddy I’d lost contact with decades ago.  He’d seen a comment I made on a mutual friend’s recent post and replied to me.  The result?  I was soon mired in a nostalgic quest of “Whatever happened to______?”  Two hours passed by as I searched for and mused over the photographs and profiles of old high school classmates, people whose faces still bore familiar features despite silver hair and tell-tale signs of older age.

It became a plunge into the past and the memories that remain, despite many years that have passed,  vivid and rooted in shared our childhoods, teenage angst, and a sense of place and history nurtured by growing up together in one small town.  I was fascinated by what my classmates had achieved and become.  Among my graduating class members were professors, engineers, teachers, authors, ranchers, photographers, artists, and pastors.   Most have retired; some have passed on.  Many have grandchildren; some remain in my hometown, many are living in the Western half of the U.S., some even farther away.  The rush of remembrance stayed with me long after I closed my computer.  I’d been transported back in time and to who I was then and the person I have become, shaped by not only my upbringing, but the life adventures, hardships and choices I’d experienced in my adulthood.  I wondered if there were signs then, nascent and budding, of who we would become as we set our sights on the future and journeyed into the world.

We come to hear the endings
of all the stories
in our anthology
of false starts:

how the girl who seemed
as hard as nails
was hammered
into shape;
how the athletes ran
out of races;
how under the skin
our skulls rise
to the surface
like rocks in the bed
of a drying stream.

Look! We have all
turned into
ourselves.

 (“25th High School Reunion” by Linda Pastan, from Carnival Evening 1968-1998: New and Selected Poems)

We didn’t know then, that some classmates would die early or unexpectedly while others would blossom and thrive in ways never imagined.  Some would go to war and return to write about it, while others lost their lives in the jungles of Vietnam.  Some would find their true life partner, marry only once and settle down into raising a family while others focused more on career, success or adventure.  A few married their high school sweethearts and happily remained in our hometown.  More than a few left for other places, returning only for family visits or high school reunions if at all.  Some never looked back; others maintained friendships over time and distance.  And so many of us made choices that changed our lives in ways we could not have foreseen at the time.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

(From:  “The Road Not Taken,” In:  The Poetry of Robert Frost, 1962)

I felt no wistfulness during the time I spent looking at the pages and photos of my friends from long ago.  Rather, I wondered what stories they might tell about their lives and the lessons learned from their experiences.  Despite our physical changes, illnesses, marriages and divorces, places lived, career choices made, it seemed that everyone’s lives have been interesting, sometimes challenging, but rich and full as my own has been.

Today, I am no closer whether or not to opt out of Facebook.  For several years, it served as an enjoyable way to reconnect and stay connected with people I’ve befriended over the years and continue to care about.  Yet perhaps I’m ready to re-calibrate, simplify, and rely on what has become somewhat old-fashioned in my lifetime: letters, cards, phone calls, even personal emails that contain more than a sentence or two created in the rush of today’s fast-paced world!

As I closed my computer last night, my mind was filled with memories of those youthful times shared with others from kindergarten through high school.  I felt  grateful to have grown up in a small town and still have friends today with whom I shared my childhood and teenaged years. I was reminded of how far I’ve traveled in my life and they in theirs, how choices made along the way took us in directions we never imagined, and how, despite the bumps, hardships and challenges  encountered, we’ve enjoyed a life full of discovery, adventure and the delight of wonderful friends at every turn.  The Facebook pages of my former classmates told some of their stories too, a testament of sorts to they once were and who they are now,  a way of saying “This is my life.  This is who I’ve become.”

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

(“Love after Love,” by Derek Walcott. Collected Poems, 1948-1984)

Facebook aside, this week, take a step back into who you once were and who you are now.  First, peruse your high school yearbook or find a photograph of yourself and some friends from your elementary or high school years.

  • Study it, the people, their eyes, smiles, perhaps haircut or the outfits you all wore. Study the younger selves that look back at you.
  • Take some of those memories and turn them into stories or poems.
  • Ask yourself: What was it like to be you then?
  • What hopes and dreams did you have?
  • What desires? What worries?
  • Try writing a letter to your younger self? What would you say to her or him?
  • How would you describe the person you’ve become from the one you were then?

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
This entry was posted in expressive writing, reflections on life, writing from cancer and serious illness, writing from life, writing to heal. Bookmark the permalink.

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