Yesterday my personal essay was featured in She Writes “Behind the Book” series and I wanted to share this with you. She Writes is the world’s largest community of women writers with 25 000 members.
Amor Fati — Love your fate
I never dreamed of writing a memoir. I just always had words in me. When I was seven years old I started to write poems, and the words somehow seemed stronger scribbled in my small notebook. In middle school my teacher constantly reminded me: “Speak up, Lene! We can’t hear what you’re saying when you whisper.” Spoken words seemed to come with a struggle, while written words danced lightly as feathers on the page. Growing up in Sweden, I read everything I could find and I dreamed of holding a book in my hands with words in it that came from me, something that would perhaps last after I was gone.
For even at a young age, I felt a strange sense of urgency. Like I wouldn’t live long and I needed to hurry. But I couldn’t find my story, my voice, or for that matter, my strength. My weakness made me feel ashamed. I was called lazy. I tried to pretend I didn’t feel the constant weight pressing down on my chest. Every year the pen, and then the keys of the computer keyboard, seemed heavier, every movement a strangely difficult effort. Slowly I had to let go of things I used to be able to do: dance, sing, take the bus, go to places that required climbing stairs. I came to realize that I was dying, but no doctors believed me. In the end I was making pancakes for my small daughters, breathlessly lifting the frying pan with both hands using all my strength, thinking perhaps that after all this feeling was normal.
Turned out it wasn’t.
I am now imprinted with half a meter of scars on my body, and on the inside I carry a scarred heart. For a long time I had difficulty making peace with my fate. I was grateful to be alive, but at the same time I viewed my years of illness as lost to me. I felt robbed. It took years after the surgeries to regain my strength and also to make sense of who I was after the weight on my chest lifted. And then one day, an image came to me, a photograph from my childhood, which only existed in my memory, but as clear as if I had held it in my hands. I closed my eyes and met the gaze of that small six-year-old girl and I took pity. I didn’t care about voice, or storyline. My heart said I had found the beginning of the story I needed to tell.
And I also found the girl in the story, who loved so much and was confused and scared and built her life around one question: Will I die young? Writing down her story made me see her more clearly. And she told me something. “Love your fate,” she said. Not only accept it, as in not be ashamed by it, not conceal it, but love it. Gradually, as I continued putting my words to the page, the girl became me.
I never dreamed of writing a memoir. But this is my story and I need to love it. Need to love the scars and the whispers and the laughter and the pain and the shame and the silence and the words in all their different shapes. Because trembling, silent, shouted, plain, confused, clear, angry, ugly; they are all beautiful.
Lene Fogelberg is an award-winning poet and a double open-heart surgery survivor. She Writes Press will release her memoir Beautiful Affliction on September 15, 2015. Learn more at www.lenefogelberg.com