You have to know your tribe. They are your roots and, like it or not, a big part of your truth. My tribe has some trouble with truth. We don’t seem to be terribly burdened by any compulsion to be fully authentic at all times. We don’t mind telling a good lie. Take Poppa- for instance. My grandfather killed himself when my Daddy was two. Uncle H__ claimed he shot himself in the foot on accident and died. My brothers and I believed that for a long time. Then Aunt S___ told us the real story with unnatural relish. It seems Poppa liked to drink…a lot. He managed to get ahold of some bad shine and damaged his insides beyond repair. He was bleeding all the time anyway, so he thought to hasten the inevitable. He lay down on a blanket behind the counter of his country store, had one last drink, and put the barrel in his mouth. Poppa died with his feet intact and that’s the truth, so triumphant Aunt S__ said.
I have a picture of my mother and daddy taken seventy years after the shot heard around the block. It is a candid photo, taken at a retirement dinner. They are looking at the camera and smiling. She is still stunning with fiery red hair, a movie star smile, and just enough filler here and there. He is forever sweet with silver hair, shy grin, and absolutely no pretense. They are happy and obviously in love. They look like grandparents’ kids might dream of: loving and stable; confident and supportive. And they are all of those things. I reckon no one would suspect, just looking at the picture, that Mr. and Mrs. Wonderbread used to go at it like Dick Burton and Liz Taylor on the tail end of an eight-day bender. No one would guess that the Cadillacs used to come out at night and play chase up and down Route 62; no one would believe their eyes if they saw the shattered glass in their wake. They were miserable and obviously in love. They acted like the kind of parents kids might hide from: passionate and volatile; arrogant and demanding.
So, who were they? Which description is true? What can be known for sure? We want our truths to be clear. We need them to be fixed and easily seen. We want them to make the same sense for everyone. But they aren’t, and they don’t. I wish I knew the answer. God knows I have spent a good bit of time trying to figure it out. I read books (at least the Cliff notes); I go to Church (sometimes); I asked my family (you know how that turned out). Still I have some nagging notion that truth is within our grasp, or at least within sight.
Maybe it’s not static. Maybe it’s not universal. Maybe it’s not definitive. Maybe it won’t fit on a meme. I spent a lot of time looking at that picture, trying to understand the truth about my family and, by extension, the world. I was trying to know, for sure, what I know for sure. Here’s what I may know for sure: truth is all those things we tend to think it is not. It is fluid. It is individual. The truth is flexible. It is dualistic. It is elusive and difficult. If truth was an eighth-grade science experiment, it would be more about the hypothesis than the conclusion. The other day I looked at that image again. I realized that if young me were asked to talk about those folks, he would have stressed the whole dramatic Burton/Taylor twisted love thing he saw as a child; but the older me tends to stress just the love thing I saw as an adult when she took care of him as he died with cancer. So, for Mr. and Mrs. Wonderbread? Both are true. Like energy, truth never disappears but can change forms depending on how open we might be. With apologies to Mr. Einstein.
Jon is a full time social worker, part-time activist, and sometime writer. He lives with his husband and far too many animals in Montgomery, AL. He tells the truth as he knows it most of the time.