At the foot of the stairs is the room we call the library. The cabinet built in its out-of-sight alcove has been a storage place for decades. It’s only been opened during the last 35 years to deposit more stuff.
In my clean-out-my-life frenzy, I opened the cabinet doors and found gold.
In one stack, beneath a pile of sheet music dating from the boys’ time in piano lessons, I found Jim’s thoughts.
He kept a file of football plays he memorized in high school. He kept notes from architecture classes in college. And he kept his freshmen comp essays. Reading them was like having a conversation with him.
I learned when he found out there was no Santa (age 7) and how much he enjoyed having a pipe after reading a book, just so he could relax and reflect on what he’d read. His description of the night sounds on a fishing trip took me to the riverbank.
His essay on cheating has stayed with me, and I’ve pondered it several times. According to 18-year-old Jim, everyone has cheated somehow sometime in his life, and it leaves a mental scar. We may not remember particulars of good times, but we remember vividly the time we did something wrong, and it leaves its mark.
My much older imagination took over, and I saw a mind (separate from a wrinkled brain), with a jagged line representing wrongdoing. My hope is when the mind flickers over a rough scar, the memory makes us learn from it and grow into better people.
But sometimes a self-inflicted mental wound doesn’t heal. I just finished the excellent Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, where one character’s disappointment in himself for a wrong action would not let his mental wound mend and led him into alcoholism. He never forgave himself and never moved on to lead a better life.
Several weeks ago I read Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late where he described some people as wound collectors. Instead of retaining self-inflicted scars, these people persistently preserve any slight, any injustice—imagined or real, no matter how long ago, against themselves or against others—to feed mental wounds and keep them open and festering. What must their minds look like? I’ll admit I’ve held a grudge before, but on the wound collecting continuum that’s probably on the low end, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who does that.
I’ve strayed a long way from Jim’s essay on cheating, but you probably follow my trail here.
Now is when I need a long conversation with Jim.