I’m deep into the novel I’m reading, an engrossing tale of life on the Oregon trail, when a paragraph hits me so hard I’m jolted back into real life as if I just fell off a cliff onto the rocks below. I lie there bruised, looking up at the sun and wondering how this happened to me.
The book is A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher. We’re in the mind of James McLaren, a trader and guide who finds himself alone in the mountains where his children died and his wife has gone missing. He is thinking of the old Indian woman friend who is dying nearby. She used to tell him, “A home has stories. Each hill, each river’s bend, takes its name from something long ago.”
Well, he thinks. His home would span a continent, by that measure. But someone had to care. Someone had to know it. It took someone else to name your life and keep it. Stories that your children told their children after.
That’s when I suddenly thought: Who cares enough to name my life and keep my story? I have no children. My husband is gone. My mother is gone. My father is still alive but very old. My brother is far away, but I don’t think he really understands who I am. Does anyone? I have friends, but how will they remember me when I’m gone?
At least as a writer, I can write my stories and save them in books. I know that’s a blessing. But who else will name my life after I die?
It was a perfect afternoon. After a good morning’s writing and a long hike with my dog Annie through a gorgeous trail laden with ferns, skunk cabbage and red alders, after seeing a bald eagle fly overhead, and now being free to laze in this blessed sun that we haven’t seen here all week, it only took a few lines in a book to send me over the edge.
That’s how it is. It’s always there, isn’t it? I have managed to smile at the photos my stepdaughter posts of her granddaughter–she’s adorable, but I’ll probably never meet her–and I have managed to read 300 pages of a book where the main characters’ children are a constant factor, but these lines did me in. Luckily, I can tell you about it and move on. After all, this is a good book, and I’m anxious to find out what happens.
Can you remember times when some little thing made you more aware than ever of the children you never had?
7 thoughts on “A few lines send me over the edge”
Sue, does your stepdaughter live far away? Might be fun to visit.
Yes, I have had many of those moments and they can thwack me hard. Sometimes it's related to what you speak of– wondering what legacy I may leave or not leave.Recently I was reading a blog comment on another person's blog. I was nodding my heading in agreement with the comment, until the writer said in a matter of fact way about someone she disagreed with politically, “Oh, thank goodness X was probably too selfish to have children, so I needn't worry about her passing on her stupid views.”Wow, did that smack me one upside the head.
Anonymous, Yes, my stepdaughter lives too far away for me to visit at this point. It would be fun to join the mother-granddaughter festivities if she were closer.
Melanie,some people are idiots, aren't they?
Thanks for writing, both of you. Keep coming back.
Roger Ebert had a few words about never having kids in his autobiography. He has come to terms with it such that he is passing along “memes” rather than genes. That kind of says it all. Regardless of a person's views (religious, political or whatnot), they will pass along their ideas to a younger generation in one form or another. In your case, it is through your written words. Ebert is quite the celebrity and will be remembered long after he is gone. But considering the age and size of the earth and our universe, we're all just specks on the landscape. Our genes become diluted just as much as our memes.
Anonymous, that is so wise and so true. Thank you for giving us some perspective.
My great aunt who died in 2010 at the age of 97 did not have children. However, as well as being very close to me, her great niece, she also built very strong relationships to many other families – in fact due to a lack of closeness to the rest of our family she regularly celebrated Christmas with another two families. She was very well loved in her community, and this year many of her friends and I celebrated her 100th birthday and spent time telling each stories about her life. So I take heart that it doesn't have to be family that keeps those stories going. Her story lives on in many other people.
Anonymous 9/22, Thank you for sharing this. I had a childless great aunt who made it to 100, and she had tons of people who loved her. The hall was packed for her 100th birthday. So yes, not having kids doesn't mean we're going to end up alone. Let's hear it for childless aunts.