Back in the day when I taught homeless women in greater Boston shelters, one of my students, young and lovely, suddenly looked up from whatever she was working on* to say, “You know something? It’s not that we don’t know because we’re stupid. It’s that we just don’t know!”
Here are some things we know:
No one is all one thing. No one is defined by the worst or best thing they did.
We’ve all been broken/hurt people hurt people.
Sometimes, by design, we don’t know things because we’re not supposed to. For example, what happens behind prison walls.
Often, after we die, because many believe “we don’t speak ill of the dead,” only the best parts of ourselves are shared at our funerals and printed in our obituaries; found in the letters we’ve left behind—and edited**.
Here are some things we don’t know:
Anyone else’s whole story.
Here’s what I struggle with:
How to acknowledge and even accept the worst parts of myself.
*Three things she might have been working on that morning, as six or seven of us sat together around a battered oak table in a Baptist-church-now-family-shelter Sunday school classroom, weak winter light coming through a stained-glass window:
How to convert a fraction to a decimal to a percent. And back again.
Her journal—in which, very likely, she wrote page after tear-stained page about her childhood sexual abuse.
What “executive,” legislative,” and “judicial” mean (There was always a three-branches-of government question on the GED).
**True Confession: Going through my father’s letters after he died, I tossed several hateful letters into the recycle bin. Because I didn’t want him remembered that way, I destroyed a painful but truthful piece of history.