catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 4 :: 2011.02.25 — 2011.03.10


Then who would I be?

Mary Gordon writes of her journey to find her father in The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father,  believing she will verify who she thinks she is by verifying who she believes he is.  But she finds out he is neither who he said he was or who she believed he was.  Thus she comes to believe she herself cannot be who she thought she was.

It all seemed to signify that we are the sum of our parts, little more than a collection of beach debris, the detritus of dozens of other lives. So Mary Gordon forces me to examine who I am, and more than that: who were my parents?

I always joked that my father was born a hundred years overdue.  He loved the mountains, or so it seemed to this child who watched him climb into his jeep, too often it felt, preferring the mountains to us. He hunted in the mountains; he fished there, and he drove us into the mountains on a hot summer day to swim in cool water running over polished rocks into pools so big to a tiny girl, yet not so impressive to a grownup. Is that why I run to the mountains to find rest for my soul, love to swim as though the water could wash away my worries?

If my father had not been a blue collar worker, had he not wanted to live where he could not see the lights of his next door neighbor, had he not loved the planting of evergreen trees, rose bushes and Big Boy tomatoes to eat out of hand or can, I wonder: who would I be? Would I have been as happy in Africa, a long way from anything resembling a city if he had not been my father?                 

If my mother had not been particular about words, explaining to me that when I said I had quite a nice time, I was really saying it could have been better — would the precision of language matter so much to me now. If she hadn’t been so insistent that we set the table just so, that we learn how to make much from little, that we fear misusing the name of God, then who would I be?

If I hadn’t watched her survive the loss of my little brother, buried on his fifth birthday, could I have ministered to the grieving in my church? Or had I not seen her work so hard and sacrifice so much to send me to college, would I have gone back after her heart attack and death? Would I have finished a graduate degree?

So, what part of me is stamped with his image and what part with hers? I cannot help but wonder, too, what part of me is stamped with the image of God whose influence has colored me in some small way or larger, since before I was even an idea in my parents’ minds.

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