Shall We Gather at the River

Admittedly, I can be a fairly private person. I realize this isn’t always a good thing, but it’s the way I work. Not everything about me is everyone’s business, and I’ve tried to employ the iceberg metaphor in discussions and promotion: for every little bit I show, there’s a lot kept under the surface.

Part of this is what happens when you’re an introvert. Part of it, I can’t help but think, was learned growing up in a small town as a minister’s kid. I’m not saying I had it as badly as a celebrity or the children of celebrities. On the contrary, I had it easy in comparison. Still, I think people don’t always realize that tightly knit communities have their downsides when you’re going through your awkward teenage years and kind of want to keep some things to yourself. Because one of my parents was very active in the community, a lot of people knew them. They also felt comfortable telling every little detail they’d witnessed about whatever I was up to. I’m sure a lot of this was out of concern, but it was stifling. I definitely heard enough about all the decisions that family member made, as well, but somehow I think a lot of that judgement was nudged onto me, as if I was part of some family committee that helped decide what that person would go out and say.

I sat through sermons telling stories on me, had people in my classes report things about me, had mutual friends and some teachers passing info about my life. In some cases, like with grades, I get that that only served to help me. In other cases, I think I had to go through my growing up at my own pace. In every case, it felt like a supreme violation at the time (I mean, come on, no one at twelve or fifteen wants every dumb little thing that comes out of their mouth to be brought up at the dinner table because someone passed it along). Even when people mean well, I tend to not like overly nosy people. I’m trying to get better at giving people the benefit of the doubt, but it is still a fact that I do not want anyone going through my mail, I do not want people unpacking for me, I do not like people rearranging or digging through my stuff unless they have my explicit permission. I don’t need things that I said or did ten or twenty years ago brought up at family gatherings because people think it’s amusing to put me in the hot seat. Sorry, that’s not fun for me. I lived that kind of thing constantly as a kid, and although I can embrace the spirit in which a lot of it was done, I still value my privacy above most everything else.

Needless to say, I was a little scared to death about Evillecon. I didn’t know who I might run into or what feelings might resurface. I’ve had 12 years away from the area in the case of college, and probably 15 years away in the case of high school. I had done a lot to purposefully distance myself, because I felt very strongly about needing to go out and make myself my own person. I love how my growing up shaped me, but I do think it’s important at some point for a person to hit the path and see what they can see for themselves. At any rate, it’s the way I work and the way I am. Somehow all that path-walking got to be a habit, and it was just easier to keep myself to myself, clinging to the memories that were still irritating instead of realizing that as much as I’ve grown and changed, other people have, too.

In a lot of ways Evillecon was as much about facing myself, past fumbles, and past versions of myself as it was about releasing a new book and putting the word out. I’m really, really glad I did it. Not only did it give me a chance to reconnect with people, but it made me put a lot of things aside and enjoy where I’ve come from and look forward to where I’m going.

I zoomed around Mt. Vernon, Indiana a bit before my library appearance that weekend, and I was given a proper tour on Sunday. It’s so strange…so many things have stayed exactly the same. I can still navigate without a map. The things that have change, though…a lot looks tired, as tired as I felt after all I was doing that week. It was hard to see all the changes that had been made to the house I’d loved so much. It was hard to see the elementary school I went to is now closed, though the hill of death is still there (The tombstones are fenced in now, as well. Ever proof that if enough kids use them as a sledding obstacle course, change will come). The river front is beautiful, and I was glad to have some time walking along it. I spent a lot of time there as a kid with different relatives, and to see it slowly being built up is satisfying. I hope the downtown district gets the same treatment. There was a strange mix of vibrant energy and tired sighs, and in some ways I could relate. It’s hard to keep moving forward when you think you know who you are (you never really know), when you feel like you’ve been working for a long time. I hope we both keep growing, though, because I can see a lot of potential in both of us.

Walking along the Ohio River was like greeting an old friend. It’s still pretty much the same view, the same feeling of unsettled peace, which is the best kind…there’s enough ease to feel comfortable, yet enough tension to make you want to do something. I found that I was able to let a lot of my irritations and past annoyances go, and it helped me really enjoy the weekend even more. It’s like the old Robert Lowry hymn says.. “Soon we’ll reach the silver river, Soon our pilgrimage will cease. Soon our happy hearts will quiver With the melody of peace.”



One thought on “Shall We Gather at the River

  1. Sounds like it was a good experience in many ways, filled with memories and new insights. Congratulations!

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