- Jenny Runkel
This week has been one of the hardest weeks of our collective lives. So much uncertainty, so much restlessness, so little to do.
And because of all that, I found myself getting hardened to the things I used to find enjoyable at the very time that I needed them most.
So, I dug out some of my childhood books from storage. I wanted to reconnect to a time when this fear and dread was not a part of my life. I was looking for my well worn copy of Charlotte's Web, which is always the right book to read when you don't know what else to do, and I found another classic I'd forgotten about: Ramona Forever.
As I looked at its cover with the little girl who looked strangely like a memory, I experienced something very strange. A deep familiarity arose in my chest, warm and tender. More than just a pleasant wave of nostalgia, this was both resonant and solid.
I associate those Yearling Books with my early elementary days. The days before boys and drama and grades and divorce and insecurity and fear. I think about bookmobiles and crawfish races (yes, those actually happened), my dog Chippie and my imaginary friends.
All of this brought a smile to my face, but this feeling...this connection...was somehow deeper than all of that. I soon found myself at my computer, not quite knowing what I was looking for. And then it found me.
I scrolled through old pictures, prompted by Beverly Cleary's cover, wondering where I'd seen it before. Was there a picture of me wearing a similar outfit? Was my hair that color? I couldn't put my finger on what I hoped to find in my completely unorganized and sprawling photo collection. Seriously, I have an embarrassing amount of unorganized photos clogging up my machine. Photos I took last week are next to four different sets of Hannah's softball season in 2005. I tell you this so that you can appreciate the shock to my system when I found the following pictures that night, without even trying.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 8 year old versions of my son, myself, and my father.
Genetics are strong, are they not?
Something about seeing these three photos together gave me all sorts of feelings. I don't know about you, but when I think about "myself" I really only think about the current "me". The "me" 47 year old me and the kinds of things I like and don't. My current roles and responsibilities. My hopes and my fears. But truth be told, I'm also that little girl. I carry her daily existence deep within my cells. All the things that little body, mind, heart, and soul saw, felt, experienced, and loved - day by day by day - year by year by year - is precisely what turned "her" into the "me" that I am right now.
And the same is true for my son. And my father. And all of the people in my life. And all of the people in yours. And something about that realization made me soften. It made me curious. What DID those 8 year olds experience? What WAS their life like? How did THAT life shape the way they live THIS life?
It gave me something wonderful to ask all three of us that doesn't involve the coronavirus. Something that might help me understand why we all tick and what it is that makes us all connected besides having the same eyes, nose, and lips.
My favorite book of all time is Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, for a number of reasons. One of which is this very theme. He explores the notion that as much as we might think that we know ourselves and the families from whence we came, we never really do, until we seek to know. The narrator notes, upon seeing the deserted streets of Paris during war, that the houses are all still, yet they all contain wonderful secrets, even amongst the occupants themselves.
In his words, it is a "...wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."
Maybe this is a self-indulgent distraction that isn't all that interesting to anyone else. I'm totally ok with that. But maybe it's also a reminder that all of us are really the same, deep down inside. That we have more in common than we ever realize. And that we're also wonderful secrets waiting to be discovered by those who are curious enough to seek.