I wish I could remember when I first learned what a palindrome was. Like a new color in my box of Crayolas, these words and phrases that read the same forward and backward, have delighted my eye and ironed out some deep invisible wrinkle at my center since sometime in elementary school. The symmetry is so appealing, as is the weird wisdom that emerges from some of the phrases.
Never odd or even.
Dammit I'm mad.
Live not on evil.
The words are often pure music. My favorite: kinnikinnik (both a plant and a product of that plant).
Lately I've been considering the possibility that some of life's big themes are palindromic. Somehow the same thing whether approached forward or back, but not complete if cut on the line of symmetry.
"Never odd or even," split in half becomes "never od," which makes no sense.
Reading and writing are at the top of the list. Two different names, but so intertwined they cannot be separated from one another. I cannot write with reading, and I cannot read without being immersed in writing. I don't know if this is the case for everyone, but from the time I first realized those squiggles on the page could take me to faraway places, both the absorbing and creation of them consumed me as one deeply satisfying act.
Teaching and learning fit as well. It's impossible to teach without learning, as I'm being reminded on a daily basis these days in my role as teacher of writing. It's just as impossible to learn without teaching. I'm a student of writing on Tuesday nights, very aware that the feedback I offer teaches the whole group, just as their feedback teaches me.
Marriage. Two very different humans as husband and wife forming a whole that is very different from the separate units. And the palindrome of that relationship is richer, more powerful, more satisfying than each half alone.
Perhaps it's the sense of wholeness that makes palindromes so appealing to me. Not black or white, but the most beautiful shade of gray imaginable - pussy willows declaring the end of winter. Not right or wrong, but actions with the single purpose of meeting very human needs, some more effective than others. Not love or fear, but both intertwined in a bittersweet reality where sunlight is the brightest in the presence of dark clouds looming on the horizon.
In the last few weeks a hidden truth has risen to the surface of my heart. One that I held deep and dear, hidden even (or most especially) from myself. The series of events that led to this epiphany is a story for another time, but so clearly purposeful there's no way to deny this truth. However, it's such a hard-won truth, I wouldn't send it back if I could.
It started with questions: What if I never really wanted kids? What if motherhood was never my path? What if the unfinished grieving is not about not being a mother, but instead about not wanting to be? Those of you who know my story, know I've spend most of my adult life either trying to become a mother, compensating for not being by teaching elementary school, or trying to prove how hard I tried before I failed.
At the core was the belief that becoming a mother would prove God had forgiven me for giving up my only daughter (for wanting my own life more than I wanted to be her mother), and because there ultimately were no more children, I had not been forgiven. Which meant I was irredeemable.
However, the other half that creates such a very different whole is this: If I answer "yes" to those questions - if I accept and perhaps even embrace the truth that motherhood was never my path - then God's intervention, or lack of, was a blessing, a gift, an answer to prayers coming from so deep in my heart, I couldn't hear them.
Two ends of a story, incomplete until joined in understanding, to form a whole that feels very much like hope and forgiveness and love that was always there but unfelt until the ends met in the middle.
photo by Filip Nystedt from Flickr