i used to think that i’d be famous.

when i was a kid, i had an almost overwhelming internal sense of profound singularity, of being impelled to star in some exalted and unfolding story that i didn’t really understand but found fascinating just the same. (mind you, i was also enthralled by my barrette collection. really, i was bathos incarnate.) but in my secret soul i was convinced: i was not like other people. i didn’t quite understand that others have their own story, nor had i yet figured out that my dramatic sense of destiny was probably just the accidental result of reading too many Victorian children’s novels. i ached with the vague thrust of vocation, with being called to great things. i longed for the future, for a stage big enough to hold all that was in me.

it was, for all its hubris, an innocent delusion. i wasn’t prideful, not really. it wasn’t the bucktoothed, brown haired, slightly pot-bellied kid with the mushroom haircut whom i thought was so unique and bound for glory – it was the internal me, the potential me, the mind and soul inside that awed me. maybe not because they were so special. coming to know one’s mind and soul, their myriad complexities and depths and poignancies and fears, is a wild ride – i think – for every human being. it’s what driven literature for millenia. and for me in those strange, lonely introspective years of adolescence and what’s now called tween-hood, my own self, unpeeled, was far richer than any book i knew, any pale glimpse i’d caught of a fellow human behind the mask of manners and social graces and distance. so i was sure, utterly certain, in the privacy of my own company, that someday all this wonder inside would simply have to shine through. i would be famous. i would rise to the promise within. i would matter.

i’m gonna live forever, i’m gonna learn how to fly high
i feel it comin’ together, people will see me and die
i’m gonna make it to heaven, light up the sky like a flame
i’m gonna live forever, baby remember my name
remember, remember, remember…

it was 1983 and my bathroom mirror knew all the words to that song, oh yeh.

to my bewilderment, though, the world has sped in fast-forward to 2007. and, nope, i ain’t famous. i haven’t been discovered in a soda shoppe, i haven’t cured cancer or written the great Canadian novel or become the next Bob Dylan. i have not saved kittens from a burning building, not once, nor made a million dollars.

i feel a quiet pang admitting and owning that fame has passed me by, as though i’ve perhaps betrayed what my childhood self saw of who i am, or could have been. some secret chord in me still cries out to be played, to be heard…to have David Bowie pluck me from a crowd and say “you. it’s you.” (and if that ever happens, my own Dave is on notice. i get twenty-four hours, no recriminations. i figure in twenty-four hours i can get me on the cover of the Rolling Stone, at least.)

but…but. my childhood self was naive, as well as innocent. the fame i dreamed of was a limitation of scope, of exposure, of understanding. had any of it actually miraculously landed at my clay-fashioned feet, i’d simply have ruined myself, i think, one way or the other, on a grand scale that my more humble real-life path hasn’t allowed for. like some piteous ‘Gift of the Magi’ twist, the excess of fame might have destroyed that spark within which led me to believe i was destined for it in the first place…that simple discovery of my own humanity in all its glory.

my real life has dulled that humanity, and battered it about. i’ve made choices that have cheapened it, time and again. but if i look deep and call up again the eyes of the child i once was, i can still see it.

because in prosaic, fragmented, unliterary ways, i have managed to matter. i am loved. i love in return. i work on patience and sometime succeed. i make eye contact, or try. the part of my soul that longs for voice has found this little crib, this stage in which i stand and stamp my feet and shout to be heard, kind of like Oscar in the morning, and it does me good. i recycle. i laugh. i try not to be unkind. i try to listen, especially to people with less power than i have. i have brought out the best in a few people, over the years. only a few. but there was such beauty in that best.

when i was a kid, i mistook the scale of fame as the scale on which one measures what matters. i didn’t know that impacting one life can matter more than broadcasting to millions. i didn’t know that instants worthy of chapters in a book, in some great tome on the human experience, can happen and never make the papers.

Julie asked us about how we matter, and i almost choked and didn’t answer, because some fragment of the child in me still waits for external validation, for fame.

but then i looked at the question again. and the secret heart that spoke to me at eleven of the promise of my humanity spoke me back to myself. matter. to matter…that agony of longing i’ve carried all my life. but once…once, i outdistanced it.

i’ve been in that moment of grace where life ends and passes into the unknown, into the vastness to which all secret souls eventually return. most go on unspent, i think, with the songs of their potential barely sung. but i held my dying son and sang to him. i sang as he moved from life, into matter. i sang because he mattered, to me, to us. and i have never mattered less to myself than i did then, though the moment will mark me and remain on me until the day i, too, slip away, my particular story closed. but i get – blessed am i, amongst women – to believe i mattered to him, in those moments…my smell and my voice familiar, his first and last window, saying “it’s okay, little one, it’s alright sweetie…you’re safe, you’re beautiful, you’re good, you can rest.”

it was not the stage i imagined, that stage set for an exit, harsh lit, with only three of us there, behind our curtain. but it is the stage on which i became a mother, and a whole world for one small lifetime. that mattered. and made all the rest, all the accolades that could ever have come my way, all the other songs that might have had a hundred listeners, so cheap in the comparison that i can barely hear them whisper to me any more.

and i will sing my same mama song to Oscar tonight, sick with a cold and waking almost every hour, plaintive and wailing. i will stumble from bed and rock him in the dark, his head on my shoulder, a rare quietness. a vocation.