Granny Witch

By Geneviève Hone

Where There Is A Family

There's always advice from Granny Witch

We knew him

Hone, small image.

Dear Granny Witch,

I need your help to fill a request from a friend. She has a friend in our building who just lost her husband to cancer leaving a 17 month old son. I didn’t know this man well at all, just enough to say hello in the mail room. He seemed to be a joyful man. I say that because I heard him singing as he left to walk the baby in his stroller. He used to show pictures of his baby to just about everyone he met, he was so proud of him. After he died, people said that he fought his illness to the bitter end because he so wanted to be there for his son.

I said a prayer when I learned of his death and left a sympathy card for his wife. But now my friend who knows the family very well wants people who knew this man, even if only a little, to write to the baby. They could tell him how they knew his father so he can have a souvenir box for when he grows up. It seems like a good idea, but I feel I don’t know this man enough to actually write about him. Plus, I’m not that good a writer. How would you go about it, Granny Witch? You have such a way with words.  

Signed: Stumped right at the starting line

Dear Stumped,

  Image: Chaise, 13 juillet 2012. Drawing by Julien Mercure.
  Chaise, 13 juillet 2012. Drawing by Julien Mercure.

From my point of view, you’re at a great starting point and that is because you know that you don’t know! We humans tend to cherish illusions of all kinds, probably because illusions help us deal with harsh realities. One of our favorite illusions is that it is possible to know our fellow humans really well, especially our spouses, children, parents and friends.  As you know, I’ve worked with lots of couples and families and I’ve often met people who think they know each other by the mere fact that they form a couple or a family! I have too often heard: “Oh, I don’t have to ask him/her. I know what his/her answer will be.” “I know what you are thinking, feeling or planning to do.”  “When you’ve been married as long as I have, you know your partner inside out.” “I know my child better than anyone. He’ll never change, it’s in his character.” “She’s so like her mother.”

Hearing these words, for a few moments, I would feel a cold weight on my shoulders, as if I were witnessing a death of sorts, the death of the ‘mystery that is the other’. I was made a very reluctant witness to a declaration of “unlove” which might sound like: “I have stopped looking at you because I feel that I know you enough.  I have made you predictable in my heart and my mind. I have defined you and diagnosed you, and that’s it. I have stopped looking at you from different angles. I do continue to like or love you in many ways, but without the excitement and joy and sometimes pain of discovery. I sincerely know you enough.”

I would shake the cold weight off my shoulders and bring myself back to the job in hand which was to help my clients shed the illusion that they knew the other well, because that illusion can kill relationships. I might suggest something like: “Stay still for a moment. Just look at his face, his hands, his breathing. Look at her as if you were seeing her for the first time, as if you had much to discover still, because really, you do. Give yourself a chance to not know. Give the ‘mystery of the other’ a chance to touch you. Look long enough to discover something you have never seen before. Find new words to talk to him, to her, words that you have never used before, words that you will find in your heart. And then risk saying them, softly at first, and then with more assurance.

Back to you, dear Stumped. Now you know that “not knowing” can be a good starting point for you in this project. But what if you go to your computer or pick up pen and paper to begin writing, and suddenly feel stumped again? There is a reason for this that you may find in your letter to me:  “Plus, I know that I’m not that good a writer”. This knowledge comes out as a fact, not to be questioned, simply accepted. Stumped is not a good writer. I invite you to challenge this self-definition, however true it might seem to you, because at this point, it has become a stumbling block. You are at the starting line and ready to run towards your goal, but your self-definition wraps around you like a tangled lasso and stops you right in your tracks. Ten minutes later, you haven’t written a word, not surprisingly, because after all, you are not that good a writer (so you think). So, I invite you right now to play with that definition instead of letting it cramp your writing style. Talk to and about yourself, and have fun creating sentences! “I’m not a good writer... yet”. “I’m not a good writer... Yeah? Says who? My 5th grade teacher? Let her rest in peace.”  “I’m not a good writer, but I can write. Just today, I’ve written a grocery list, an anniversary card to my husband, a note to Billy’s teacher. Nobody has complained.” I’m not a good writer yet, but who says I can’t learn to write more creatively and freely?” Go on until you begin to doubt that definition of yourself. Question what you have learned from the “authorities”, parents, teachers, employers, who have helped you convince yourself that you don’t have what it takes to write this letter. Then take a deep breath and start writing!

Dear C.E., I only met your father once or twice in the lobby of our building. He would be leaving to bring you for a buggy ride, but it would take him the longest time to actually make it through the door and finally be on his way, because he would linger to let people admire you. As he was finally wheeling you out, he would sing “Plus bleu que tes yeux, je ne vois rien de mieux”, an old Edith Piaf song. He certainly knew many other songs because he sang in a choir, but that was his song for you. You must have heard it hundreds of times in the short time you were together. That song must be engraved deep in your heart. May you hear it anytime you need to.”

Good for you, Stumped, or should I say “Formerly Stumped?” And all the best,

Granny Witch

In loving memory of François, our friend