I don’t often read memoirs. Or really ever. I still haven’t read Blue Like Jazz, which in my circles is apparently akin to not reading The Bible.
I like my reading the way I like my coffee… robust. And frankly, I tend to view autobiographies as hopelessly thin on substance and more often than not an exercise in self-absorbtion. The stereotype that I have with regard to memoirs is that they are more or less people (typically, of substantial means) whining about their lives. So sorry to anyone who has written a memoir or aspires to do so. I fully understand that this gross over-generalization says way more about me than it does peoples’ desires to write autobiographically. A certain response could be leveled that what I do on this blog, or in the pulpit, or every other arena of my life is equally thin and self-absorbed. Ok, duly noted.
At any rate, Alison is not unfamiliar with my jerk-wad opinions about books. So when she insisted that I begin to read one with the peculiar title, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir… of Sorts, it instantly rose to the top of the reading stack.
Like most self-fulfilling prophecies, it was living up to my low expectations and I was having a hard time getting into it. First off, I wasn’t wild about the title. It sounded sort of weird. I know titles are meant to be intriguing, but I couldn’t fathom what any of those things had to do with one another. And I wasn’t all that committed to finding out. I think the real problem though was that being unaccustomed to reading anecdotes about other people’s lives, I just couldn’t seem to grab hold of it. A couple days ago and several chapters in, Cron’s story grabbed hold of me.
Sixth grade was about as painful a period in my life as any.
Up until this opening line of chapter 7, I could appreciate the cleverness with which he told stories, but I just wasn’t connecting. And then in these few short words, he states clearly and succinctly the way I am certain every human being feels about the junior high years. And from then on, I was in… all the way in.
Not all the popular kids at my junior high were model students; some were miscreants. I learned from this period in my life that if you put a hundred people in the same room, in less than two minutes the sociopaths will find each other and begin terrorizing the rest. The same thing happens on playgrounds and in prison yards. It also happens at the United Nations, but that’s a different conversation.
When I got to this chapter, I knew this guy was on my wavelength. I’m going to go out on a limb here and venture a guess that a tell-tale sign of a really good memoir is its universal appeal. But for crying out loud, Mr. Cron and I could be twins who were separated at birth. Except that he is probably a decade older than me, of Irish descent, and far more intelligent. But other than those minor details, he and I are the same.
Similar family dynamics, similar flailing (or as he describes it, “falling”) through high school/college, similar stumbling into faith (even through the influence of the same para-church ministry), and a similar difficulty in knowing how to deal with emotions across the spectrum.
It is this last commonality that is the most intriguing. While he confesses that he struggles with being able to get in touch with his emotions, one certainly doesn’t get that impression from his writing. Cron is one of those gifted human beings who is able to express a thought or feeling with words that leave one (or maybe just me) saying, “That is exactly what I think and feel.”
I will spare you the reproduction of entire pages from the book, and instead just leave you with a few quotes that convey both his wit and depth. And if you “get” them, then you get me. How’s that for self-absorbed? Hopefully, ripping a few sentences out of context doesn’t do too much violence to the richness of his storytelling.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have dimmers and those who have on-off switches.
People who have dimmers can regulate how much they drink, smoke, exercise, have sex, eat, work, or play BrickBreaker on their BlackBerrys. They can “dial it back.” They can “take it or leave it.” Their motto is “Moderation in all things.” We need these people. They become actuaries and veterinarians. Our pets would die without them.
Our parents are mysteries to us. No matter how close we think we think we are to them, we cannot know the content of their hearts. We don’t know the disappointments, or the scars and regrets that wake them in the night, or the moments for which they wish they could get a do-over. I’m not persuaded we should know them better than that. In our therapeutic age, it’s commonly said that we’re only as sick as our secrets. But there are secrets that we should keep only between God and ourselves. I don’t trust people who tell you everything. They’re usually hiding something.
Drinking is fun until it isn’t.
There are acts of love so subtle and delicate that the sweep of their beauty goes unseen. I know of none more miraculous and brave than that of a seventeen-year-old boy coming to his friend’s side to take his tear-soaked face to his breast.
I believed that if Bowdoin [College] took me, I would magically stop feeling out of true. It would be like God saying the lien on my happiness had been removed. It would mean no more going through the day asking, “How do I compensate for who I am?” I thought this mysterious voice could make me believe what I couldn’t make myself believe: I belonged on earth.
As we pulled out of our driveway and drove down our street, I grabbed my mother’s headrest and pulled myself toward the front seat. We didn’t wear seat belts in those days. Parents smoked with the car windows closed too. Humans should be extinct.
Ok, if I share anymore I will probably be in violation of some copyright laws. I am happy to say that I was entirely wrong about Ian Cron’s wonderful memoir. Odds are that I’m wrong about memoirs in general. Regardless, getting your own copy will be well worth the time and money.