I received a letter this week from a man who has served for some years as guardian to Hester and Sally Phelps. I recognized his name as someone who was a pupil of my late mother when she was teaching in a rural school 50 years ago.
I drove past his family home for a number of years on my way to work.
The purpose of the letter was to inform me that the essay I posted as a tribute to Hester and her family had instead been a cause of distress to her sister.
The post was shared beyond my immediate list of 'followers' and the response had been respectful.
That it should have hurt Sally, having been viewed as an inappropriate airing of family history has shaken me considerably.
I am aware that when there is a sense of betrayal it is difficult to 'back-track.'
Honest explanations and apologies can sound like feeble efforts to deny accountability.
I've reflected deeply regarding where I was emotionally when writing the essay.
My thoughts explored not only the loss of one person who had been a positive influence in my life, but expanded to contemplate the reality that Hester was one of the last of my parents' generation.
Inevitably we endure the loss of the grandparents, the aunts and uncles who inhabit the small safe realm of childhood. Sometime in our middle years our parents become ill and infirm, and with their passing comes the realization that we ourselves are now becoming the 'elderly.'
Many of the families in the rural farming community where I was raised had been settled there for several generations, often occupying ancestral homes, carrying on a family farm or business.
The histories of these individuals and their families were part of our neighborhood heritage.
Perhaps I absorbed an unusual amount of these family 'stories.'
We tacitly allowed for the inheritance of tragedy or loss or difficulty that impacted certain individuals, just as we accepted their passed down gifts and talents
I recognized fairly early in life that we are each a fearful and wonderful mixture of quirks and foibles!
I believe that family stories, the happenings that have shaped us, need to be preserved, should be available to those younger members of a tribe who have an interest.
I began nearly two decades ago to write the tales recalled from times spent listening to the reminiscences of my grandfather, my mother, the maternal great-aunts. Most recently the tales have come from my father's younger sister, aided by her daughter and son.
These are the 'stories'--but I've also spent time on serious research for the data which supports the vital events of several generations.
Where, then, did I go so sadly wrong in the writing and sharing of what was intended as a tribute?
The 'guardian' in his missive labeled me as "ignorant, insensitive, uncaring, and thoughtless."
He could have made his point, told me what I needed to know, without resorting to such scathing rebuke.
In struggling to understand my blunder, I think the error was in sharing a story that was not truly mine to share. In that sense the concept of 'thoughtless' is perhaps well deserved, though not in quite the way that was intended.
I had hoped to honor one family of my neighborhood who endured a series of tragic losses but carried on gracefully, an influence of stability and inspiration in the community.
I regret that I became so focused on the 'story,' so engrossed in my own memories and emotions that I failed to widen my outlook, failed to perceive that I might be over-stepping a boundary of discretion.
I've done what little I can to make amends.
The post and all links to it have been removed.
I've written two letters: one to Sally expressing my deep remorse at having unwittingly caused her distress.
I've composed what I hope is an appropriate response to the 'guardian' who was doubtless acting in his role as a protector.
A person who resorts to sarcasm and harsh words to remonstrate with me probably has his own issues to deal with, and I didn't respond by groveling or attempting to change his assessment of me.
I share this only because I previously published the 'story' which resulted in misunderstanding.