Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say
Kelly Corrigan (Random House, 2018)
Kelly Corrigan is a memoirist of exceptional candor. Like her earlier book, The Middle Place (see http://anygoodbooks-mixedreviews.blogspot.com/search/label/Kelly%20Corrigan) Tell Me More is full of hangovers, quarrels, and tantrums, narrated in a humane and friendly voice. More important, it's full of family love and deep friendships, and wisdom as a work in progress. We meet her at fifty, having lost her father and a close friend to cancer in the preceding year. It's all too much, some days: "...in the time it takes to get the mail, I can slide from sanguine and full of purpose to pissed off and fuming."
There's healing magic in the title essay, though. She gets instruction, and practice, in letting conversations happen at the length they need to, rather than leaping in to solve her daughters' problems. It's a great skill at deathbeds, too. The chance to have your regrets heard and absolved may be the ultimate comfort.
Because of her own past as a cancer patient, Corrigan is sensitive to bad comfort. When she had cancer, she says, "Every conversation fell into the same pattern. Cancer was The Enemy, treatment was A Journey, and I was A Hero whose responsibility was to weather the shipwrecks and beat back the sea monsters, returning from the odyssey changed and better." She understands these conversations as defensive, as a striving for meaning where none may be. Life is messier than that, though; bravery may have nothing to do with it. Learning to say 'I don't know' leaves things open, for better and for worse.
The kids at Camp Kesem have seen the worst: they have parents who have had, or died of, cancer. Corrigan visits the Camp to hang out with people who need respite from being That Kid Whose Mom Died. As one of the counselors says, "It's all-consuming because everyone is reacting to it. It's driving everyone's behavior–your coaches, your teachers, your mailman. It's super isolating. But not here." The kids (and counselors) are not Saints, there's not Heroes, but they know something about the times when there's not much more to say than "I know."
The knowledge that other people hold for us is one of the things we really need in life. Corrigan's father was her great cheerleader through false starts, dead ends, mistakes, and misdeeds. Their relationship was a fifty-year skein of compassion and forgiveness. With his bluff encouragement, she kept getting up and trying again every time she messed up. It's like a bar mitzvah, where a kid feels seen and heard in a new way, and expands into the feeling.
"The mentors and rabbis, the grannies on the bema, are certain about things we can't yet believe: that listening is huge, that there's might in the act of committing yourself to a cause, that trying again is both all we can do and our great enabling power. They see clearly that we weren't wrong; our aim was. They knew that we are good enough, as we are, with not much more than our hopeful, honorable intent to keep at it. They tell us, over and over, until we can hear it."
Tell Me More is a book you could read in an evening, but it also might be chewed over for a year, especially if you're having one of those times when events and emotions take up more than the time you have.
Emailed Feb 1, 2018