When I heard, I was shocked. Ninety-year-old Sarah called to tell me one of her daughters had rounded up all fifty copies of her book, a memoir, from friends and relatives and burned them. She didn’t know why, and it was too painful to probe.
Sarah (not her real name) and I had worked on her story for three months. We laughed, shed tears, and slowly sculpted a monument to her life. It shone with light and grace and humour and forgiveness and grief and glory. We were both so pleased with the legacy she was leaving for those she loved. As she said to me one day,
“What good are our life experiences if we do not share them?”
It’s been years since Sarah and I met at her house to do what she knew was sacred work. The soul work of telling her story. Today she came to my mind. I thought of how the act of silencing her was similar to how the Catholic church silenced stories of abuse – perhaps because I’d recently seen the documentary movie Spotlight.
On impulse, I picked up my copy (of course I kept a copy) of her memoir and opened it at random. It fell open at a story I’d forgotten. After her husband died, a priest pursued her for several years. It didn’t materialize into a relationship, but Sarah could see he was lonely, longing for family life. She felt that forced celibacy can cause great grief.
Sarah had told the story to me with gentleness and compassion. But now, reading this through the eyes of a family member, who could be Catholic, I felt this could be the reason for the burning of her books. Silencing yet another witness. Could be. I don’t know.
In almost the same thought, I remembered Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 where books are burned to suppress knowledge that would cause people to think and question the existing order. I remembered that Lynden McIntyre wrote The Bishop’s Man as fiction because the truths were so brutal he felt he could tell the real story better in fiction than in a memoir.
Indeed, truth can be dangerous. On the other hand, telling your truth can be healing, can be shelter, can fell the barriers of stereotyping, and can be inspirational to others.
Wise Woman Sarah, I treasure the time we spent together. Your true and generous stories have enriched me. Wherever you are now, I know you are watching over your family with your boundless love.