In organizing my writing cabinet, a section of my home office filled with my scribbled prose, I came across old journals and reflective pieces that I actually thought I had thrown away during my decade-ago purge of old, deeply personal prose. At that time, I had ripped the lined, handwritten pages out of each journal and destroyed them in my small shredder as I sat on the hardwood floor.
Prior to my journal destruction, during some of my sleepless nights, I was tormented by the fear of another pair of eyes coming upon my thoughts—many of them dark and written only for my own readership. Even worse, I would feel horrible and greatly embarrassed if my husband or grown sons belonged to the eyes that came upon these writings. But, before I chose to erase the evidence of my not-so-pretty reflections, my anger, and my angst, I sat down on the floor, once again, and proceeded to read them all.
Learning About My Younger Self
I learned much about my younger self, for some of my prose came from a period of time when I was in my 40s, a time when my youngest was still in high school; a time when both of my parents were alive; and a time when my dear friend Marion called me with daily updates before she, too, suddenly passed away far too young.
I read about my difficulties, my challenges, my full and often overwhelming life as a wife, mother, daughter, and full-time professor with hours of evening paperwork. All of these roles took huge chunks out of me, and my exhausting days were underscored by a line I came upon in my journal, one that actually took my breath away as I read it twenty years later: I have learned to live under the radar of my own existence.
At the time, I could only see the many fragmented pieces of myself—so much so that my very emotional existence was in question. If I only had the clarity of hindsight to tell myself that while I was in the thick of it all (with all of the roles I carried), this was what life was all about—juggling the dimensions that make us complete despite the hardships. Ironically, I was unaware that these experiences—these perceived challenges were actually simpler times.
Being Fully Present -- First and Center
Today, my life is full, yet due to age, growth, and sadly the passing of some of those around me, many roles are shrinking. On the other hand, I do not live under the radar of my own existence. I am fully present—first and center— in my older self, a gift that time has given me. I am embracing the ease of older age, of retirement, of grandparenthood while my children are independent and look to me for friendship rather than advice. I could never have anticipated writing such thoughts in my journals of long ago, but today I can and do so with both relief and joy.
My younger self wrote about the storms that my husband and I weathered, and ones that weakened us, yet never destroyed us. I have lived my own longitudinal study and realize that there is beauty and an inner peace in a long-term relationship, one where we can both say, “Do you remember the time that our main water pipes burst right when we brought Brian (our third) home from the hospital and we had no extra money to fix them?” Today, we would smile, but then, we cried.
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Today, there is comfort in our shared struggles and our immense joys, yet my writing often reflected the frustration of a younger wife whose husband just didn’t understand her. Twenty years later these dramatic ramblings are far from the truth, for years have shown me that he has always understood me. A peacefulness falls over us in our remembrance of the struggles that we have survived.
Writing Struggles and Progress
Another old journal reflects my passionate struggle with my writing. I was tormented by what to write about, for I wanted to write a book, yet had no clarity as to the subject. My reflections were clear, though: I want to help others and write from my heart. I want this to be a journey for others and for me.
I prayed for guidance in helping me with the subject matter. By the following year, I began writing my book When Will I Be Good Enough? A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing. I felt fulfilled in my goal of helping others, and readers have commented on the universality of the book’s themes. Ten years ago, I had no way of knowing that, as I wrote little pieces of my book each day, I would find my direction and a dream come true through my prose.
And, finally, my writing from long ago reflects a common theme I have grappled with my entire life: never feeling quite good enough (obviously reflected in the title of my book). I write with logic as well, telling myself these are old tapes and not necessary to believe. While I can accept intellectually that such thoughts are not valid, they are still my feelings, yet such “voices” are now much quieter than they were in the past, so I am grateful for my progress.
Reading my old journals clarifies how far I have come and how much more content I am in my own skin. While it has become trite to state that “life is a journey,” my writing suggests the validity of such a phrase. Most of all, I have enjoyed getting to know my younger self through my writings, for she continues to teach me about my progress. I acknowledge her as I continue to shred the pieces of my writing that are for my eyes only.
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Copyright 2017 by Barbara Jaffe. All Rights Reserved.
Book by this Author
When Will I Be Good Enough?: A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing
by Barbara Jaffe Ed.D.
Barbara was born to fill the vacancy left by her little brother, who died at the age of two. This book tells the multitude of readers who have been “replacement children” for many reasons, that they, too, can find hope and healing, as did Barbara.
About the Author
Barbara Jaffe, Ed.D. is an award-winning English professor at El Camino College, California and is a Fellow in UCLA’s Department of Education. She has offered countless workshops to students to help them find their writers’ voices through writing non-fiction. Her college has honored her by naming her Outstanding Woman of the Year and Distinguished Teacher of the Year. Visit her website at BarbaraAnnJaffe.com