The Way We Were
By Linda Baillie, a former student of the Fifth Grade at St. Hubert's School in Hoffman Estates
(now Linda Clark-Borre)
Several years back I published my Master’s thesis on the topic of “memoir as the means to recovery and discovery,” and titled my project Not the Person I Was.
Most of us would likely agree that we are not the same person at the end of any given year that we were at the beginning. Supposedly even cells in our bodies regenerate/transform every seven years or so, thus physically transforming us on a kind of dog-year rotational schedule.
We change, change, and change some more. Then again in some ways we don’t.
Criminy, life’s not so simple, is it? I’m thinking about this as a result of a friend’s producing a class photo of me and my grade school classmates in all our fifth grade glory…which reminded me immediately that my St. Hubert Catholic School days represented the best of my childhood years.
One of my former classmates of the day told me of being bullied, of not fitting in later on during high school. How well I could relate. When I went into public school in seventh and eighth grade, the popularity tables turned on me on account of my being fat, pimply, and too big for my britches as I assumed an ever-more adult role in a household that was falling apart.
The photos of earnest, smiling children remind me how much I’ve forgotten of my long-ago fifth grade experience. But along with a couple of connections and names to go with a few faces, new links have appeared that enable me to reach back a bit further in memory than I’ve cared to go in the past.
Mr. Graham had a positive influence in my life, making me feel accepted in ways that girls need when they don’t know much about their fathers. I loved all of my instructors, and have been told that I projected happiness in the old days.
That was a small but important insight that came to me as a gift (thank you Cathy). It helped me realize something after all these years and at a 2,000 mile plus distance. I long suspected that fundamentally I was a lover of the world. I mean, I didn’t just become that way; I was born that way.
I’d lost a sure sense of who I was for a longer time than I care to admit to myself much less to anyone else. For years I was a tie-er of others’ loose ends, a fixer, a provider, a solutions-finder. A vivid memory is me at the age of twenty-seven, reading Walter Kaufman’s Existentialism, and thinking what a curious question “Who Am I?” was -and not having a clue as to what it meant. I am what I do…right?
I was that invisible to myself. Well, bygones…
I see in my dotage that we simply lose the thread of the good from time to time. It’s always there somewhere to be picked up again, though it may be hidden in a pile of something we’d rather keep at arm’s length, like the crappy residue of a challenging life (and whose isn’t?). Pull a little and out it comes. That’s the feeling I have now.
We’re all in process. I look at the sweet faces that were once so familiar to me in Room 11, destined as we were to cross paths for but a tiny interval of time. Growing up was what we all wanted to do, and we all carefully planned for heaven.
Did you find it? I want to ask them all. Do you still believe in it?
One of my conversational partners throughout the years - a physician friend with strong spiritual leanings - said to me perhaps fifteen years ago, “I hear you can tell that you are becoming spiritually complete when you sense yourself coming full circle... when you honestly encounter the ‘you’ that you always were, and can reconcile that being with the person you have become.”
He may be right about that, who can say? All I know is that while I am certainly not the person I was, the girl is still part of me, living out her peculiar destiny. I don't understand it all, of course; it is a mystery and a miracle, the paradox that teachers of the faith say signifies truth in life. Clearly the girl left the shelter and the ideology of the school, but still carries elements of it inside herself.