We’ve got two lives: one we’re given and the other one we make,
And the world won’t stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way.
–“The Hard Way” Mary Chapin Carpenter
Chapin’s song “The Hard Way” was released on the album “Come on Come on” in 1993.
Back when an album was still a coagulation of ideas held together in physical form.
When I sing it, it still seems brand new to me. It’s the kind of song that transports me back to the my so-called formative years. When I walked away from my safe and imperfect family, my old town, to go out and find out who I would become.
Once away, I could sit and listen to my mind. I could take inventory. I was able to lay out all the flaws in front of me, and get to know them.
Confused by Time
I am often, more recently, confused by time. It’s one of those “adorable” qualities of aging. Haha, yes I was thinking 1993 was only 10 years ago. Doh!
But it masks a subtler, more true heartbreak of the human experience. Time passes and forgetting happens.
When the kids came, I’d watch them with their other Mom and Nona, and the light of their faces and the struggles. They were so young; all those early years: our mind still growing and understanding how to make space and pathways for memories.
Now they are older, the early memories have dissolved. Those except the ones surrounded by trauma.
Caverns of Mystery
I know that I am a keeper of their story — people want me to tell it to them all the time. You should write a booooookk! Yet even in the remembering I realize that I have though I have a story to tell, it is my own. Before I left my home at 18, I thought: “No one here sees me as I am.” I know I am not the original child to feel that way.
How to write a story, as a mother, then, with memories are waxing and waning? With their own story of who they are still building? Their inner lives are caverns of mystery to me, and not my own.
In the years after the adoption and before my mom died, I came “of age” as a parent. Other people always have the best ideas of how you should do the mom-thing with your kids. When I say I came of age, I mean that I outgrew the need to have every decision OKed a stranger on her soapbox.
One day, talking to my mom, I said, quite spontaneously: “Mom, I think you have to accept me the way I am.” She was rattling off a list of shouldas and oughtas. I interrupted.
The One We’re Given and the One We Make
In her inimitable style, she thought for a moment, and then said: OK.
I remember my years as a college student, on my island, continually plugged into my Walkman and drawing daydreams as I walked through the world.
These days. I’m more likely to put on my headphones and plugin to music, to Chapin, Colvin, Lyle, Emmylou, letting the past and the sounds wash over me and soothe me.
It reminds me of all the lives out there: the ones that are given and the ones that are made.