Some of you may know that I am writing a book, in the form of letters to my niece, which I hope will be published next year. I have included the introduction and what is currently a good chunk of the first chapter for two reasons. First, I would love your honest feedback on it. You can post it here or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you want to know what happens next? Would you buy a real “somewhat spiritual auto-biography” if what is given here is representative? A tangible book, or an ebook? Let me know.
Here goes nothing.
Never Trust a Bear Burner: Stupid Things I Learned First-Hand to Save You the Time and Trouble (letters to my niece)
By Sarah E. McCoy
My dearest Clara,
I write you this as you are but a year old because I can already tell that we have quite a lot in common. Even at one your tenacity and joy are palpable and infectious. Those things will get you far, child, so guard them well. I hope for you that when you encounter persons or perspectives that put these things in jeopardy that you recognize them for what they are and run fast. Run far.
Somewhere along the line I lost that instinct a time or two, and it is my aim here to share some of these experiences with you. I do not aim to shame anyone involved; not me, and not the others, for there is always redemption, I believe, in every person and every situation whether or not you can tell how that redemption will take shape or what the view from the other side will reveal.
Life is hysterical, even at its worst, which is something I think you will grasp. Even now you are a very funny girl. I hope that if I teach you anything it is that even the most profoundly painful of situations has within it a sense of absurdity and therein lies the gift. Find that kernel in the midst of the pain and wring out the joy with all of your might. Not only will you stay sane but you will perplex those whose aim is to bring you down. We are to love and to forgive those who persecute us, it is true. If you can flummox them and render them speechless, well, all the better.
I am here going to tell you of some of the funniest and some of the most painful true stories from my own life so far because as I have tried to explain, this is the ultimate paradox – where one element exists so too does the other.The sooner you can find the funny and count it all joy, the sooner the pain will subside.
On the whole, my life thus far has been a bittersweet life: often poignant and often painful but never dull. Thus far it has been quite a life.
[Chapter 1 – The Bear Burner]
When I was 17 I met a boy who I suppose would change my life. No one has ever caused me so much frustration or pain. The ultimate thing I took away from this relationship was that “love” does not have a universal meaning. When I said “I Love You,” I meant what I thought everyone meant: those things which I learned about in my Victorian Era Poetry Classes in undergrad, so eloquently written of by the Brownings. That was not what he meant. I don’t know that I will ever know, or need to know, what he meant, but something would eventually became clear: love could be given but could just as easily be withheld, and not always for a clearly articulated reason. I don’t love that way. It isn’t extinguishable. It just is.
He did some foolish things and so did I – each more than our share. This is what you are supposed to do when you are young and are figuring out what love is. Do so with abandon, Clara. Never be afraid to love or to look foolish while doing so. You are not the fool for giving it; the fool is the one who will not accept the gift. Jason, it turned out, though intelligent in ways that no one I have met before or since is, is a fool. I don’t think he ever recognized or accepted love when it was given, and I don’t think he ever truly loved me back in a mutual way. If there is one example that shows this to be true, it is the incident of the bear burning which I will here share.
About three years into our relationship I bought a bear. His name was Wumpus, and he was the cutest bear I had ever seen. Further still, when you pressed his paw he said “I Love You!” (actually, I said “I Love You.”) Love makes you do strange things, such as buying bears that talk. Case in point.
During one break-up Jason was so angry at me and apparently at everything that had anything to do with me that he gathered them all up, poured lighter fluid on them and tried his hand at a bonfire. You would think throwing them in a dumpster would be enough, but no. Jason wanted them all to burn. Being a children’s toy, Wumpus wouldn’t burn. I am certain that was as infuriating as it was symbolic. I want to stop right here and have us reflect for a moment. The things which were representative of me were, in his mind, worthy of burning. That is a lot of unproductive anger. While sometimes a bear is just a bear, sometimes a grown man turns into a fire-starter, illustrating quite well how unlovable they deem themselves. Here we are dealing with the latter. Only someone with issues would try to burn up the very thing that represented someone they claimed to love.
Clara, never ever wait around for a bear burner. Your love can be true, unconditional and steadfast and it just won’t matter. The issues are not yours, they are theirs. Leave them with the person to whom they belong and be on your merry way. If they change, wonderful. If not, how tragic. But their stubborn refusal to yield is not a reflection on you or on the love you have to give. Go give it to someone who recognizes it for what it is. Never find yourself in pain, wanting so badly for your love to be a salve on what is wrong for someone who upon hearing your pronouncement of love, whether from your own lips or from pressing the paw of a stuffed bear, is prone to starting fires.
Clearly there were issues that I didn’t want to recognize going on with Jason. Clearly I had issues of my own as well, for he will reappear later in the story. I cannot change the things that happened or how badly they hurt me. The only thing that I can change is for how long and to what extent I allow myself to be hurt with what was. You can want for someone to change. You can want for someone to be well, and to be at peace. What you cannot do is to make these things come about for them. They have to want to change more than they want to stay the same, and he never did.
Clara, love is the most important thing there is but it can make smart women do stupid things. It can make you hone in on the good to the extent that you refuse to look at the bad honestly. Be aware of this. I wanted and wished with all of my little heart for things to be OK but by myself of course I could not make that so. Which leads us to chapter two. . .