ElenaLee blogs at Our Place.
A blogger I very much respect once spoke of events in her life bringing both a gift and a wound. A gift and a wound—I carry this imagery with me like a familiar piece of jewelry or some small memento, some reminder of where I have been and of where I hope to go. The simple acknowledgement that both exist, at the same time, is healing. After growing up in a subculture often trapped by a black and white view of itself and the world, I relish the freedom to carry both truths in my hands. For me, being homeschooled was a gift. And it was also a wound. Both strands revealed themselves as I moved from a very home-centered existence to the larger experience of college and adulthood.
College unfolded a new world for me, one filled with the stimulation of interacting with more people more frequently than I had before, a chance to know and be known in new ways. After a high school education taught largely by textbooks (but with careful oversight by my mother, who assigned each day’s lessons and made sure I did the work), I found flesh-and-blood teachers exciting. I liked when they knew and respected me—when an art professor noticed I had a question during lecture just by the look on my face, when my history professor shook my hand after I finished his final test. Looking back, part of me hates that I knew how, and was eager, to excel in relationships with authorities. There is, perhaps, an element of “working the system” involved in it. And yet, I am grateful for the richness that interacting personally with these good men and women added to my life.
I have never excelled socially with peers. I suppose excelling isn’t even the point of peer relationships—but certain elusive social skills are helpful in bringing people together. I made only one lasting friend in community college, and she wasn’t a fellow student but an older employee in the library. Though on cordial terms with classmates, I commuted into town and never “hung out” with others, a skill I still feel uncomfortable exercising. In college, I continued to be dogged by a perception of myself which began with the (to me, unaccountable) distancing of one of my few close friends as a tween and solidified during my lonely high school years as a relative newcomer in a rural area: I wasn’t good at friendship. “I don’t expect to make friends,” I declared to my mother as I contemplated my transfer to a college in another state. “If I do, that’s fine, but I’m not counting on it. And that’s fine, because I’m really just going there to learn.” Viewing college as a job instead of an opportunity to develop friendships was my defense against the humiliation of social failure.
Thankfully, my predictions didn’t come true. I made a few real friends and a number of lovely acquaintances during the two years I spent earning my bachelors. The comfort of companionship which I had primarily experienced in family situations, I now enjoyed in spontaneous games of Dutch Blitz with the girls across the hall, in watching a movie with friends the first night back from break (soothing the jar of transition with back rubs and “mindless entertainment”), in having someone to sit by in chapel and (sometimes) the safety of a group in the dining hall. But, at least in my own mind, I didn’t exactly fit. I seldom felt secure in relationships with others, never fully relaxed.
During that time, I did experience a whole new joy in the realization that my written words could resonate with others and forge a connection. My professors challenged and encouraged me, creating an environment where things stored inside of me could come to life on paper. Interactions with fellow students in small peer-review groups delighted me—I could hear the warmth in their voices, enjoy the sense of discovery when something one of us had written became something that somehow belonged to all of us. Shared imagery wove into each of our lives. This joy, this gift of shared words, flowered in college—but it began long before that.
My parents, my mother in particular, raised me in a home rich with words. Mom read to my siblings and me nearly every night, even into our preteen years, and we each read eagerly on our own, as well. She placed a wonderful writing curriculum in my hands, thrilling me with the realization that words provided another outlet for my artistic passion. She even helped me like the physical appearance of my handwriting, teaching me a whole new kind of cursive when the first method wobbled and globbed from my left hand. Writing, especially poetry, has become a key way that I navigate life—a solace for myself, and sometimes even for others. When I trace the path that ushered me into that world, following it from my keyboard, today, through professors and fellow student writers–it begins with one woman, my teacher throughout my whole childhood, my mother.
I carry the gifts Mom gave me—the many benefits from her conscientious, extensive, and loving efforts on my behalf. In some ways, exposing some negative results from my upbringing feels disloyal and ungrateful. But it is not my job to be the justification of a lifestyle. I am no one’s lifework. I am a person. And along with a love for the sharing of life through the sharing of words, who I am includes the wound of a social limp which I carry today. I still tend to default to isolation or interacting with others through meeting their perceived expectations of me, but it is my hope that I will continually grow more honest with others and with myself.