I was allowed to watch “The Bridges of Madison County” at a fairly impressionable age. I attribute much of my fascination with unrequited love to the dynamics played out in that movie. Damn it.
The second most heart-clenching thing about that film is Meryl’s children finding her journals and discovering the interior world of their mother in pages of her handwriting. By the time I saw the movie, I’d already been keeping a diary for a few years, but afterward, I wanted more than anything to have something for my children to know me by when I’m gone.
It’s not purely egoic. Some of the longing probably arose from wanting very badly to know my own mother; despite her candor about her young life and what I could extract about her inner life by simply living in the same house with her, what steadily became clear was how much we can’t know our parents without our knowledge of them as our parents coloring the reality.
I wanted to give my future offspring a chance to know me. My hope was that in seeing my own inner world colored to life by my handwriting, they’d find me in themselves — and vice versa. My hope has always been, over the years and years of keeping journals, not to morosely give my child a salacious account of my private life, but to offer the truth of a person-in-process. It is a hope that my unborn children might see a delicate pattern arising in their own lives, and allow themselves to also be, as we all are, in process.
I started a new journal this morning. As I gazed at the finished ones of the last few years sitting on a nearby bookshelf, it was quite literally like looking at chapters of my life. Each journal has marked a specific period of time, during which some internal process revealed itself. Whole beginnings and endings found themselves nestled against the front and back covers of those books. It isn’t by design; the marked beginnings and endings of phases of my life have seemed to gently place themselves, with no effort on my part, within the pages of one well-bound journal after another.
This morning while I journaled, I remembered my young, Bridges-of-Madison-County self. “Do you know this is all for you?” I wrote to my future progeny. “That everything I do, seek, and try to uncover in myself is for your benefit? Not because I think I can save you — you’ll have to do that yourself — but because I’ve always known you would exist….
“How better can I tell you that you, even in your incredible struggles and fears, are precious? You have to know this, so that you can trust yourself enough to know you are not here to suffer. You are not here to question everything, go to work every day hating it, and then die not knowing who you are or what you came here to do. Remembering that will change your days into something magical — bordering on miraculous.
“Learn to see your days infused with tiny, mundane, miraculous stuff and the world changes from something happening to you, into something holding you — just waiting for you to smile at it, notice it, and trust it.
“Do you know what I mean when I say ‘heaven’? Or ‘God’? Learn to teach yourself to seek what these mean for yourself, in your own heart (and mind), but not while wielding the sword or Belief. You must be careful, also, not to turn your back on words, for they are made from human minds, and are just as dangerous.
“‘God’ has so many zealous fan clubs, and you may think you know what the word means by what you think it’s not, but I’m telling you: no one owns ‘God.’ A relationship with ‘God’ is as simple (or complicated) as looking long and hard at the part of you that turns no one away. The part of you that stays soft, and reaching for connection, even in heartbreak: that is ‘God.’ I promise you: whenever you are seeking kindness and inner authority that doesn’t need to bash anyone or anything to the ground, you are also seeking God.
“If it wounds, seeks to divide, shame, condemn or defend: that is something else. It is the naturally-arising force that is afraid of losing itself if it dissolves into the Love that is everyone and everything. It’s human to fear this dissolving — and to fear dissolving into other people — but try to love that part of you, and love it in them, too. It will keep you humble and compassionate, and therefore closer to being more alike than not. This is also what it means not just to seek ‘God’ as a co-opted, institutionalized ‘being,’ but a quality of heart. This is what it means to dissolve into love, so let yourself.
“Whatever you call the thing that brings you closer to Truth that includes, that harmonizes, that connects and seeks connection — be that. Be that and you’ll know who you’re here to be, and who we’re all trying to remember we once were.”