I just landed in Halifax tonight for a public lecture on Monday, and I wanted to write a quick blog post before I go to bed. One of the things I love about flying is that I get to catch up on all my reading. So, for example, today I read one Christian Century , four New Yorkers, and one Entertainment Weekly. Then, when I was done with those, I started the next Louise Penny mystery–I’m on A Trick of the Light.
I love her books: I love the main character, Inspector Gamache; I love the storytelling; I love the characters; and I love the writing. And almost always, there is some little snippet of a conversation, some little quote or comment that strikes me as profound and very meaningful. That’s what I want to share today.
So, when the book opens, Clara Morrow’s a one-woman show at an art gallery in Montreal has opened. She’s put her whole heart and her whole self out there, and so she’s bit of a wreck about it all–wondering what the critics are going to think. So the next morning, she buys a bunch of newspapers, takes a deep breath and reads the reviews. Almost all of them are glowing, and they say wonderful things about her work; but, of course, there is one negative review, and, like all of us, this is the one she chooses to focus on, and it is those words that she remembers.
A brief conversation with her neighbor Ruth, a famous poet, helps her to see what she has done. Ruth asks her what the critics said, and Clara finds she can’t remember any of the lines in the good reviews, but she can quote the bad one by heart. Ruth stands up and recites one of the best sentences in one of Clara’s reviews, and then says to her, “Don’t forget, Clara.”
I was so struck by that, because aren’t we all susceptible to that kind of selective memory? I know I am: I remember the worst student evaluations, not the best; I remember the unkind criticisms, rather than the compliments; and I magnify every mistake and misstep. And when I think of all the people I love in ministry, I know how many pastors do this, too, and how painful it can be.
If you know the characters, you know that one of the points of this exchange is that Ruth is an embittered old woman, whose heart and face have been shaped by the pain of critique and insult. When we engage in this kind of selective memory, it forms who we are and the person we become: we live into other peoples’ construction of our identity, rather than becoming our own person. And, it gives the haters way too much power over us in the meantime!
There are two sides to this, of course; sometimes I’m on the other side of the critique, too. We’re not always the people we should be to each other–we wound each other accidentally & intentionally–and even when we’re sorry, we can’t take back what we’ve said. So, I took that little word to heart, to remind myself to be kinder to others, and kinder to myself, too–I want love, openness, and joy to triumph, not cruelty, disappointment and doubt. And I want that not only for myself, but for others, too.