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
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
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.
Reinvention of Self
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
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
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
And What of Your Personal Reinvention?
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
it as a young child when family hardships changed your life?
there opportunity or necessity to reinvent yourself as your family moved to a
new geographic location?
it in adulthood when a marriage suddenly ended?
it when a financial disaster occurred?
it when you learned a family secret that brought a new perspective or changed
relationships with others?
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 more or more personality changes? Under what
circumstances? How did that go for you? Please share your thoughts with our