We have several rocking chairs in our cabin. In each of our great-rooms, you can find a place to sit and rock while relaxing. When reading two memoirs by Cynthia Reyes, A Good Home and An Honest House, I envision Cynthia and her husband, Hamlin, sitting in two of those rocking chairs, sharing their stories. Cynthia’s recollections of her life are delightful, humble and humbling, and inspiring.
Her first memoir, A Good Home, shares her childhood stories, growing up in Jamaica through her education and career in Canada. She organizes these events around each house that she lived in and how these became her home.
We usually consider a house the physical place of residence, while the home embodies the experiential aspects of those who live in that place. Cynthia shows the transformation a house into a home, to include the place, the furnishings, the people, and the events. Our lives can be organized by those places in which we lived the experiences which form us into the people whom we are. Without the place, where would we be and how did we get to where we are?
While a few folks live most of their lives in one place, most of us travel from destination to destination, both in terms of the houses that make up our lives and the events that occur in those locations. Cynthia chronicles the houses and homes in which she lived. Her stories describe how each influenced her ambitions, determination, and doubts about life. More than a series of recollections, Cynthia allows us to contemplate our own houses and life events, as if we were enjoying a visit in those rocking chairs in our great room.
An Honest House continues Cynthia’s accounts of her experiences over the past few years. Rather than spanning decades of living and growing, she focuses on the recent years, since the publication of her first memoir. She is confined, physically and symbolically to one house. This is a story of recovery.
As Cynthia and my readers know, my work is in occupational therapy. One of the Life Skills groups that I facilitate in an out-patient behavioral health program is a Recovery Group. Now, I usually shy away from leisure reading that seems too much like work. Reading poetry or blog posts about people’s struggles and anxieties about life usually extend the cognitive and emotional energy that I invest into guiding people in healing. Reading Cynthia’s anecdotes about her injury and recovery are not burdensome.
When I introduce the Recovery Group, I emphasize two points. First, recovery is guided by each individual. One’s desires and ambitions establish one’s goals, not a therapist. Thus, if half a dozen people are in the group, they probably have half a dozen different expectations for recovery. Second, recovery is a process. Each group member may be at a different part of her or his recovery, and may use different methods at different times. As a therapist, I can recite a whole variety of possible methods. What will work for any particular individual depends on how she or he defines recovery, personal factors, such as prior life experiences, interests, and talents, and one’s social network and supports.
For Cynthia, her recovery involves a variety of people, objects, events, and the place she calls an honest home. Obvious people include her husband, family members, neighbors, doctors, counselors, therapist, church friends, and book club attendees. The objects can be books, fountain pens, and the kitchen. The events can be meals with family and friends, gardening, and book club readings of her first memoir.
An important step in recovery is when we can take our experiences of transformation and relay them to other people. Healing is a cycle. At some point, we recognize that we can help someone else in her or his process of recovery. In An Honest House, Cynthia becomes a healer for others.