I've decided that year one of this MFA program is like going through self-administered therapy. The memoir essays we produce require excavating our past and trying to make meaning of what we sift from the dirt. Ideally, the work becomes edifying to us as well as to our (eventual) readers. We read other memoirists to see examples of how to do this right, and reading their work is like applying balm or a generous lens to our own errors and hurts. Thank God for the writers brave enough to get their humanity and messiness down on paper; for their sin and transparency and failures and irreverence; and for the redemption that seeps through even still.
I finished Mary Karr's Lit last weekend. Geez. Karr’s writing made me grateful all over again to be a writer, a woman, a sinner, and a Christian. It reminded me that God is not tame or saccharine, because there’s no way an outlaw like her could fall for a domesticated god. And with her reminder I came to love Him a bit more, too. However unalike our personalities and upbringings may be, I felt a fierce identification and resonance with Karr. She made me feel ready to own my flaws. (See what I mean? Therapy.) My insistent bent on soliciting approval from anyone and everyone ebbed slightly in the wake of her bucking, reluctant movement toward an eventual faith.
Lit’s opening epigraph—a tiny line lifted from Homer’s The Odyssey—does a good job of summing up what I’m learning lately. It’s just three words: Passage home? Never. Here is what I’m realizing: there is no such thing as arriving. I keep catching myself thinking "this year" (meaning a rough and relentless year of darkness and anxiety) is over. But is anything ever really over? More likely we move along a spectrum, through varying shades of gray. More likely I keep forging toward the light and unearthing more of my scabbiness, letting God shine a light on the sin I couldn't see. As another writer puts it, "Increasingly, I understand I don't get to go back. Increasingly, I don't want to."
Today, I am dredging myself upward—that is, God is dredging me up—from a year of fearful inwardness. For so long I was in self-protection mode, noticing only my own needs. Let's be real, most days I still operate that way. But I'm becoming hungry for a more outward and generous way of living. Karr puts words to this hunger: "I was made ... not to prove myself worthy but to refine the worth I'm formed from, acknowledge it, own it, spend it on others." There it is. Our full potential lights up when we let His light pass through us and onto others. When we're outward-facing and okay with all our flaws and all the gray.
Passage home? Never.