There are moments in life when it is clear we are no longer the person we once were. Some of those moments are preceded by a gradual reckoning and arrive fairly painlessly; others are life-wrenching.
When we must move on from the identity we once had and let go of the comfort of a life that can no longer be, how do we adapt to the future as a new person?
A good work of historic fiction has a way of clarifying those moments. In Before We Were Yours, author Lisa Wingate offers up two narrators to teach us how to move on.
In alternating chapters, Wingate explores the life of a 21st century woman, Avery, a 30-year-old successful attorney still in a relationship with her family friend and long-time sweetheart. Her moment of moving on to a new self, while not painless, is within her decision making as an adult.
The second narrator, Rill, a pre-teen who lost most of her family, summons up her young wisdom to let go of her determination to return to a life that was dear to her and trust in a new identity.
Wingate’s book is a well-researched piece of fiction based on a corrupt adoption system where babies and young children were sometimes kidnapped and spirited away from impoverished families without the skills and money to fight for their return. Those children were then ‘adopted’ but basically sold to wealthy families who wanted children.
Although accomplices abounded, including local policing authorities and doctors, the kingpin, or queen pin in this case, was Georgia Tann, who after many years of living with the pretense of respectability, was finally arrested.
But back to our narrators. Rill, the younger of the two, is actually the great-aunt of the up-and-coming attorney, Avery. Rill’s history is known only to the generation of sisters who were kidnapped from their family’s shanty boat as young children.
So, what brings these two women of different generations to squarely face the decision to accept and develop new identities?
Avery accomplishes this by facing the fact that she must disappoint her long-time fiancé, who expects that they as a couple will continue in the social structure of their parents. But the long delayed society wedding will not be taking place.
While not breaking from her family, she sets her course to a slower-paced life with a more low-key partner, moving from a fast-paced legal position to a professional advocacy role is a reinvention of self by choice.
Rill becomes a runaway from a wealthy and talented family and their luxurious home where she and a sister were adopted. She makes her way back to the river shanty where her family was last together.
After a tough river journey, she learns her mother is now dead and her father has become an alcoholic who blows up their shanty boat before her eyes.
She returns to the adopted family and, with nothing left of the life she knew on the river, she bravely determines she must become May Weathers, her adoptive name, and leave Rill Foss and her past behind.
If you have lived to your 60s and beyond, there was likely a moment, or perhaps several moments, in your life when you looked soberly in the mirror and reckoned with the truth that you are not the person you were, the life you had is no longer right for you – or perhaps that life is no longer available to you.
When did your need for reinvention occur?
Most of us will be somewhere between the soft landing of Avery and the heart-wrenching thud for Rill – who finally accepts and becomes May to save herself and her sister.
As Wingate’s book makes clear, the art of change is to know and acknowledge – whether change occurs from within, or outside forces thrust it upon us – to accept and let go of who we were and become the person we must be to move forward.
What do you think of self-reinvention? Have you had to go through one or more personality changes? Under what circumstances? How did that go for you? Please share your thoughts with our community.