Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Looking Back To Tell Our Story

Lot's wife ignored the angels' warning not to look back when she and her family were fleeing a devastated and rotting Sodom. We all know what came next.  As she glanced over her shoulder, she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. For many, this story became a cautionary tale. See? This is what happens to a curious woman who looks back at her past.

For others, the story of Lot's wife is a favorite at memoir workshops.  It provokes laughter and the question: If we don't look back, how else do we tell the story? Not to mention: Whoever heard of someone turning into a pillar of salt?  (Perhaps, it is metaphor for tears?)

I got to thinking about all of this after joining a Lenten Bible Study. The first chapter in our assigned reading - Lot's wife.

Aren't we told that wisdom and joy come from living in the moment, in the now? That we must keep moving forward? But here's the problem. If we are stuck in the past, how can we?  Like Lot's wife, we remain nameless, a woman forever silenced from telling her story. 

If we don't look back, how else do we tell the story?

Writing is a powerful and compelling quest. It helps make sense of things. It transforms the dragons and demons into something beautiful. By looking back, we move forward.

This doesn't mean we can proceed without taking the necessary precautions. Sometimes writing about a particular memory is best left for another day. We may decide to come at it through the side door since pushing ourselves to the edge is too scary. Give it time to percolate before putting it on the page.

Reviewing our lives in the context of one central and defining event makes for memoir's compelling narrative.  It is also the compelling narrative to any worthwhile story, memoir or fiction. The protagonist is confronted with crisis; how she resolves it makes for dramatic tension.  A character who is frozen in place interests no one.

What compelled Lot's wife to look back? Did she have the courage to confront destruction and look it in the eye? Was she saying goodbye to her old home as a way to move on to the new?  We'll never know. Lot's wife never got to tell her story.  How we would have loved to hear it.

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