Sunday, 1 May 2011

Unbraiding in the Sun

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone--

The thing I get complimented about most is my niceness, and it’s the easiest compliment to accept because it’s a really true thing to say. I’m nice. Super nice. Purposefully, proactively, perpetually nice. It’s not an act. It’s just the truth of who I am: one part Southern belle, one part theological black sheep, one part redemption-seeking twat.

In my early 20s I realized I was a prophet Isaiah girl. Not dour, really. More like: hyper-aware of needing my heart cleaned, and hyper-aware of all the broken hearts around me. I made what you might call a covenant, if you’re into Old Testament lingo, that I would do the thing Jesus said he was meant to do (the thing Isaiah said Jesus would say he was meant to do): Bind up broken-hearted people, proclaim freedom from darkness for captives, comfort folks who mourn, provide for folks who grieve.

I’d be lying if I said my faith is the same today as it was a decade ago when I made that promise, but when I was 23 I said to God, “I want to want to mend the broken-hearted, and I want to be equipped to do it.”

And on that day, on that very day, I started transforming from One Of The Biggest Pricks You’ve Ever Seen to One Of The Nicest People You’ll Ever Know.

I can’t help it.

I can’t help knowing exactly what’s happening to strangers who brush up against me, and I can’t help knowing exactly what to do comfort them, and I can’t help doing the thing that needs to be done. I’ve ignored it sometimes. I can think of six time I’ve ignored it, in fact, and I know the memories of those broken-hearted will haunt my living and waking nightmares for the rest of my life. I see them in my mind’s eye as clearly as if they were sitting beside me now: the lines on their faces, the callouses on their hands, the grumble of their empty bellies. One man’s dog starving beside him, both sharing a blanket under an overpass in a rainstorm in Munch. He needed ten Euros. Twenty maybe. I bought a beer stein I lost before I even flew home.

Not too terribly long ago I met with a digital executor, a lady who asked me a lot of tedious questions about what will happen to the online Heather Anne Hogan when the flesh and blood Heather Anne Hogan doesn’t exist anymore. There’s my Twitter, my Tumblr, my Facebook. There's my Flickr, my LiveJournal, my domain. There's my email. There's a hundred other things. What do I preserve and what should die along with me?

The digital executor said, “What do you want your legacy to be?”

I’m not unfamiliar with the snake, that narrow fellow in the grass. So I said the thing I’ve known for a while, that I want people to remember me for being nice.

“‘Nice’ isn’t much of a legacy,” she said.

I wrestled with it. I turned it over in my brain. I grappled it, strong-armed it, kicked it around it. I assaulted it. No one remembers nice guys. Nice guys finish last. I met her again a week later, this woman in charge of laying to rest the online Heather Anne, and I said, “I’m OK with nice. I’m OK without a legacy.”

I don’t remember the name of the guy who saved me from a ten-mile ride on my Strawberry Shortcake bike the first time I ran away from home at five years old. I don’t remember the name of the lady who said, “Don’t lip sync; your voice is angelic” at my first choral competition. I don’t remember the name of the coach at the basketball camp in Tennessee who spent seven hours teaching me the footwork for the crossover that got me into college. I don’t remember the name of the lady who bought me a full tank of gas when I was trying to get to Florida to bring my sister home to me. Or the Sunday School teacher who held my hand as I cried at the altar the day my parents announced their divorce. Or the guy who carried me out of the mountain bike trail the first time I crashed alone.

Oaks of righteousness, Isaiah said of broken-heart menders. A planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

Niceness is the truth of me. And here is another one: My Facebook won’t survive — but I think my acorns will.


Heather Anne Hogan said...

I should also say that I'm still an ENORMOUS asshole a lot of the time. I'm just *mostly* nice.

Jennie said...

The world needs all the nice people it can get. I think nice is a fine legacy.

mysterygirl! said...

Anybody who thinks that "nice" isn't much of a legacy is a total know-nothing. Niceness changes, for the better, other people in a way that a lot of other legacies surely don't. You really are the nicest person I know, and I never mean that as anything but the highest compliment.

eclectic said...

I will echo M!G! verbatim, because she captured precisely what I felt in response to your post.

Knowing you has made me more aware of my own desire to be nice. Honestly, I want a bracelet that asks, "What would Heather Anne do?" because I've found myself periodically assessing mundane situations with eyes & ears attuned from having read some of your vignettes over the years, truly trying to envision how you would approach or observe or interact were you in my shoes.

Ashley said...

That's twice today you've made me tear up at work, H!A! BLURG.

Never That Easy said...

Nice seems like the best legacy, truly. And I think it's probably the most awesome thing ever that you managed to actively create the legacy you want for yourself. It's inspiring, just so you know.

You can call me, 'Sir' said...

Behind most of the folks with legacies worth remembering are batches of nice people who influenced them in ways that made them worthy of being remembered. So, being nice changes the world in millions of subtle ways. I don't think that's such a bad thing.