I had kind of a strange reaction when my first grandson was born. Understandably, there were a lot of emotions flooding me when I first saw him, but I didn’t expect fear and self-reflection would be in the mix. I remember thinking my background in early childhood education would surely give me the edge because I’d read what to do and understood important stuff like developmental milestones and how to communicate effectively with young children. I was really going to shine in the world of “grandmotherhood.” But the reality hit me hard—not when I looked into his eyes for the first time—but when he looked into mine. I don’t care what the child development experts say about what newborns can and can’t see. Michael looked straight into my eyes, and he saw who I really was the minute we met. What I know now is that he understood the invisible space. He was way ahead of me, and I could join him there or I could stay in my pre-defined world.
Soon after that, I started writing The Truthful Story. For me, the most powerful part of writing this book was being able to find and then settle comfortably into the invisible spaces. Of course, like all of us, I know that many kinds of gaps exist—between generations, between races, between people and nature, and even between life and death, but those obvious differences are not what I’m talking about. Writing this book allowed me to discover and live in neglected, beautiful spaces, to honor them, and to hear what I needed to hear. In the book, those spaces are not defined by what’s different between Genny and Nannie, who is no longer physically with her; it’s not about what is different between Dora, the oak tree and the child who sits into the pocket of her trunk; it isn’t what’s different between Daduh, the black housekeeper and the white family she cares for; it’s not what’s different between the silent Marylou in her wheelchair and those walking noisily around her. The differences are not what matter. The invisible space is defined by the ease of generosity that flows between those differences, that moment and that world where nothing matters except what you can give to each other that lifts each other up, that shines a light on what is right and true between you, and that defies all doubts and misunderstandings and expectations. The meaningfulness of that space cannot be diluted by judgment or science or demands for proof or someone else’s expectations. It is where you see, with great clarity, the gift the other has to give and genuinely respect and accept it. It is also where you will recognize what your gift is and how to give it.
Michael and I understand the invisible space we have, and we thrive there. When we first met after he was born and he looked at me, my fear was that I really couldn’t be the grandmother in the storybooks that I thought he needed. I realized I could stay in that fear by myself, or I could be brave and go into that invisible space Michael was inviting me into—the one so obvious, but also somewhat intimidating, between us. I remember the very second I decided to go there. As a newborn, with nothing in the way except a thin, blue-striped blanket, he was the purest example of genuineness. All he was asking of me was that I be the same. He didn’t need me to be someone else. He needed me to be true to myself, and I knew I could do that. I would write the book I had always dreamed of writing, and with Michael and Genevieve’s help, I was going to learn a lot about invisible spaces and the gifts inside of them.