There are three types of characters in a memoir – well, two really: You, and Everybody Else. But Everybody Else can be loosely broken down into two camps: your enemies and your allies. Because this is memoir, who is who will not be as clear as in, say, a young adult fantasy novel. At some point, no matter how much you love your mother or husband or sister or friend, you will probably find yourself in opposition with everyone. Everyone will criticize you, everyone will doubt you, or leave you, or ignore you.
The difference between your enemies and allies, then, is forgiveness. Our allies are those whom we have forgiven for their transgressions; our enemies are those whom we have not. Of our allies we say, “Yes, he can be critical sometimes, but I know that’s mostly because he’s so critical of himself.” Of our enemies we say, “I can’t believe he said that to me! How could a person be so insensitive?”
Good question. Many a memoir is written to find the answer. Because, of course, there is always one more person in need of forgiveness, and that someone is the narrator. Within the narrator lives the understanding that if there exists such a thing as an enemy whose words or deeds are beyond forgiveness, then maybe – just maybe – you are just such an enemy yourself. Perhaps you have uttered a word or committed an act beyond forgiveness.
Unlike in fiction, in memoir we cannot, as a rule, kill our enemies. Yet like an action hero in a thriller, we do not wish to end our story with a villain still at large. Our only hope is to lay that enemy upon the altar of forgiveness, where he or she will perish, to be reborn in an instant as an ally. The moment we do so, we ourselves are forgiven, having surrendered our judgment upon the world – a judgment dreamed to keep us safe from a sin we ourselves invented.
Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.