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Hanging over my head

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  • Thomas E. Hepler
    HANGING OVER MY HEAD My Sword of Damocles by: Thomas E. Hepler (This piece is written for the March 2009 Barnes & Nobles Memoir Writing get-together in
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 9, 2009
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      My Sword of Damocles

      by: Thomas E. Hepler

      (This piece is written for the March 2009 Barnes & Nobles Memoir
      Writing get-together in response to the assigned subject, “Hanging Over
      My Head.”)

      Exactly when I decided to write my memoirs is unclear. It must have been
      after the death of my parents. Absent them, I suddenly felt compelled to
      know more about them, but they were no longer available to tell me about
      their lives. I didn’t want my offspring to experience the same emptiness
      about their parents’ lives. Consequently, I began to write, something
      that never came easy for me.

      Why didn’t my father’s death trigger the need to write? He died nine
      years before Mom. I cried real tears over him, and I dreamt about him
      virtually every night for months thereafter. All of a sudden, the dreams
      stopped. My father’s death was not unexpected, especially when the
      doctor told my brother and me, the morning before he died, “The next
      twenty-four hours are critical.”

      With Mom it was different. I never shed a tear, when the nurse, or
      whatever she was, called me on July 24, 1978, to tell me my mother had
      expired. I think the word “expired” stunned me, diverted my thought
      process, and pre-empting any tears.

      That I had cried real tears for my father and not a single tear for my
      mother has hung over me ever since.

      But it would be twenty-five more years before I began to write my
      memoirs, although, during all that time, much of what I wanted to say
      was a major part of my thought process.

      As I said previously, it is not easy for me to write. That is not
      entirely true. The difficult part is sitting down to do it. I
      procrastinate almost endlessly as the task hangs over my head. When,
      after much pondering and soul searching, I sit down at the keyboard, I
      find the words, thus removing my “Sword of Damocles.”

      When I write, another sort of sword suddenly takes shape, hanging over
      me, and perilously close. In writing memoirs, there is a need to probe
      one’s memory in order to focus on incidents and people from the past.
      There is an unintended consequence to this exercise. Among the mostly
      pleasant recollections lurk a few, and in my case, more than a few,
      unpleasant ones, long buried and best forgotten. I am speaking of
      stupid, insensitive, or disrespectful things I had done or said that
      certainly offended people to some degree or another. That I chose to
      bury the unpleasant and sometimes obnoxious incidents reinforces that
      conviction. Excavating them can be extremely painful.

      I have two choices. One is to totally abandon my memoirs. The other is
      to continue and re-live the guilt. I have chosen the latter path. To
      what degree should I mention these incidents? Some, I return to the
      grave. Those that I choose to write about, I may touch only
      tangentially, leaving the underlying elements to die with me — and the
      offended party.

      It really is not as bad as I have spelled it out. These issues are not
      an overwhelming part of my life, but there is enough to cause me to look
      upward and ponder the sword.

      A few years ago, I approached a woman I had known since the first grade
      with the intention of apologizing for an unfortunate high school
      incident for which I had been responsible. It certainly had to have
      offended her. To my surprise, she had no recollection of it at all. I
      wonder if most of what had remained dormant for me, all these years, had
      long been forgotten by the person I thought I had offended. Why did I
      chose to “own” it? There is another possibility. Jean may have buried it
      herself and did not want to have it revisited.

      The least I can do, acknowledging my guilt, is to ponder the sword
      hanging over my head.


      This has not been my best effort. Given more time, I would have
      rewritten it. However, I have run out of time, if I am to deliver it to
      my Barnes & Nobles associates, dare I say classmates, as scheduled. It
      is not unusual to deliver a piece at a later dare, and it is not
      considered bad form to do so. However, in this case, I will read it as
      written. I don’t want to have it hanging over my head for another month.
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