When I was reading one of my many books piled up to read while I was on a trip this weekend , I came to the closing words of the book and was taken aback by how deeply they resonated with me then, and when I read them aloud later. The epilogue read as follows:
“This book has given me a beautiful gift. The memory of the pain and anguish of my past that I have carried with me all these years, I no longer have to carry. As I lay down my pen, so to speak, I set aside those details. I relinquish my mind and my heart from the duty of remembering. Tamoom…it is finished. I am hunted no more. Now I am free (303).”
Over the course of my reading and reviewing of books, I read many memoirs. I greatly prefer to read memoirs than autobiographies, although the difference between them may be subtle, because a memoir is the recording of a life whose importance is in the context of that life, while an autobiography is a sign that someone considers themselves, whether rightly or wrongly, to be important enough for people to read about them being the center of attention in their own life. With very few exceptions, I greatly prefer a memoir written by someone who seeks to record their life with a bigger picture in mind than a self-aggrandizing autobiography that is written with no such larger end in mind than to talk about oneself. Be that as it may, I have written neither a memoir nor an autobiography of my own life. I have not written an autobiography because I do not consider my own life to be important enough that people would search it out to read it, and because I dislike focusing on my own life to that kind of length or depth and because I do not wish to be the center of attention even in print, without some larger purpose in mind.
Yet although I have read many memoirs of people whose lives were not so different from my own , indeed, enough of them to know the precise sort of subgenre of memoir my own life story would fit into—the memoir of a person blessed by divine providence despite a horrific beginning to life, or perhaps more concisely a memoir of a difficult life. And though I happen to know at least a few publishers, I found that most attempts to compare my own life story with the memoirs I read left me in some despair, as the people who wrote most of those reviews did not end up writing them until they had married and started a family, which was a sort of seal of God’s approval on their having overcome the immense difficulty of how their life started, and the sort of victorious conclusion no one could gainsay. Yet I am unmarried, and have no particular short or medium-term hopes for such a happy end, unless circumstances in my life change dramatically, which is always possible but not something to take for granted.
Yet in reading the memoir of Mahtob Mahmoody, I was struck by the fact that she did not conform to this usual pattern. Her account speaks about partners, about her wealth of good male friends, and about the fact that she is in her 30’s and has not yet been successful in love and that she did not feel it necessary to have been married to have reached the point where she could say her life was a success thanks to God, in spite of everything she had faced and overcome, from an abusive father, to her own crippling shyness and PTSD, to her struggles with lupus. And, despite this lack of closure in the formal sense, no one could look at her life and not see her own life as an example of the graciousness and mercy of God. She wrote to forget, to free her mind and heart from the burden of holding on to the details of her difficult early life, to free her mind from a burden for whatever future challenges were ahead, to write the last word about certain matters so that she did not dwell on such matters forever. And that is precisely the sort of memoir I could write about myself, one filled with honesty and graciousness, written to forget the details of the past, to put them down on paper, to acknowledge my own perspective, and to seek to free my mind from the burden of remembering it any longer.
Yet writing a memoir can be an awkward and difficult way to forget. In Miss Mahmoody’s case, her memoir was focused on the context of her deceased father, and part of the reason her memoir had a good sense of closure was that her father had died, and thus the outward repercussions of her own life’s difficulties were fairly limited, since the disturber of her peace was no more present in the land of the living. For other people, myself included, writing a memoir of life’s challenges at this present time is more awkward because when one writes about people who are alive, there are likely to be more serious repercussions that result from such an effort. Not only do we write from our own perspective, which may be rather upsetting for other people to read when it comes to their own behavior and their own actions, but even the open acknowledgement of truth while two (or more) parties are alive is immensely difficult. The memoir of a difficult life often requires that those who are difficult no longer be in the picture, or that the difficulties one faces are no longer crippling, so that there is a measure of progress. Yet that progress remains elusive, and so I have withheld my own pen from writing the memories I wish to forget, because I have not glimpsed enough of the promised land for the journey to be pleasant enough for anyone who is unfortunate enough to read what I have to say about my own life, its immense difficulties, and with the hand of God that has guided me along this path of thorns, to destinations still unknown.
 See, for example, the following: