(C) Wendy Anne Clark, 2017
So another birthday has come and gone, and it feels again like an opportunity to stop and reflect and ponder and philosophize about life. And so I will.
What makes up a life? What makes up my life?
Is it how many times my heart beats or the number of breaths I take? How much I weigh and how tall I am?
Does it matter that I know the difference between “way” and “weigh”?
My physical body doesn’t make up my life, but it is a part of my life, and there have been times when my physical body has taken center stage in my life: When I was in grade school and was the tallest kid in my class. During adolescence. When I was just starting junior high school and people thought I was in high school. Gaining weight, losing weight, and then gaining it back again, and then losing it, etc., etc., etc. During pregnancy. When I had cancer. Recovering from cancer. A really bad hair day. But most of the time my life is so much more than my body.
How would I describe my life?
I’m not an important person in the way the world defines it—someone to be written of and recorded in history for people to know of well into the future. But I am important to certain people—and there are people who are important to me. That’s at least a part of my life.
If someone were to describe my life from the outside, he or she would get it wrong because so much of my life happens inside of me, from my own view of the world. And there is so much I’ve never told anyone.
When I was in kindergarten, I went to a private school where they still gave spankings for being naughty. Really bad behavior would earn a trip to the wood shed for a serious spanking. I never got one of those, but I did get a spanking.
We were painting at easels. Wayne Drake was teasing me, and I teased him back. The teacher grabbed me, just me and not Wayne. I explained that we were playing. She scolded me and pulled me up in front of the room and said something about teaching me and the whole class a lesson. I didn’t understand why she was angry with me. We were just playing. And why wasn’t she angry with Wayne when he was playing too? She spanked me in front of the class. I was confused and embarrassed and hurt and angry. Very angry. I’ve had to forgive her several times over the years and let go of that anger.
I had to stop here and forgive her once again.
That experience stirred up in my little 5-year-old heart a strong sense of justice and of a right way and a wrong way to do something and a recognition that people in authority don’t always get it right. I also chose to forgive that teacher because even then I understood that forgiveness is the right thing to do. Now I understand that it is very important for who I am and who I am becoming–always.
If I’d made a different choice or if I’d had a different teacher, how might I be a different person?
That experience is a part of my life and who I am because it shaped my view of the world a very long time ago, but that is not a story that I tell to many people, and I don’t even think about it very often. My life is made up of a gadzillion of those stories.
There are some details of my life that others would recount incorrectly because I withheld information, on purpose.
One of my sisters thinks that she convinced me to give my daughter the name Haley. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve known since I was 13 that I wanted to have a girl and name her Haley—after Hayley Mills. I wrote that in my journal, and I kept that to myself because I didn’t want anyone else to use that name.
When I was pregnant with my daughter and people would ask me what I was going to name her, I would toss out outrageous names with a perfectly straight face and watch for the reactions. One that I threw around was “Hedra.” “Then I could call her ‘Heddy,’ “I explained, “like Heddy Lamarr.” My sister told me that name was “horrendous” (She was right.) One friend wisely observed, “Not everyone knows who Heddy Lamarr is.”
Ironically, before my daughter was born, a popular soap opera named a character “Haley,” and, just like that the name was back in the books as a popular baby name. I beat the rush by just a hair, and most girls named “Haley” that I’ve met are a little bit younger than my daughter.
So people from the outside looking in might not know the details of my life simply because I kept the details to myself, for one reason or another. They are observing my life from their own side of the fence, and it’s a limited view.
In the same way, so much of recorded history has gotten it wrong about those people we consider important and worth remembering in books and files and documentaries. No matter how well the person was known, there was so much that no one ever knew.
That seems right somehow.
If I were to write about my life, would I give you a list of the major, most important, life- changing events? And would the events that shaped my life all be large and earth shattering or would many of them be like a single day back when I was in kindergarten, a day that the teacher herself probably wouldn’t even remember?
My life is made up of my experiences and my responses to those experiences, of my thoughts and feelings, of my choices and the reasons I made them. It’s made up of the things I’m curious about, the things I’m learning, and the things I know and understand. It’s also defined by all of the things I don’t know and have never experienced and have never been interested in. It’s made up of the people I’ve met, the ones I’ve invested time and energy into, those I’ve grown closer to, and those I’ve grown apart from. It’s made up of the things that I like to do and the way I choose to spend my time. The things that make me laugh and the things that make me cry.
And from this side of the fence this past year has been . . busy and fun and strange and exciting and challenging and unexpected and educational and full of love and laughter and joy and peace and thankfulness.
And that’s my life.
(C) Wendy Anne Clark, 2017