What I Thought I Knew
by Barbara Stahura

Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-1-932279-99-3.
Reviewed by Doris Anne Roop-Benner
Posted on 01/16/2009

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

This is a delightful book of personal essays. We get to know Barbara Stahura and her feelings about many of the things that we all think about but don't take the time to explore.

Stahura admits that she was a lonely girl who grew into a woman who is much more confident and outgoing because she felt safe within the pages of her books. She tells us that her library card has languished because owning books meant that she would not have to release them, like hostages with whom she'd fallen in love. That's the love that opened her world and nourished her spirit.

One of the topics that she discusses is her father, who died when she was 14 years old. She had loved him so much, this ordinary man who had been willing to make great sacrifices to be of service to God and to the suffering human beings he understood were God's children. Years later she remembers thinking "...on the day I turned 42 years and four days old, I was older than my father ever was." They didn't grow older together, and he left no messages for her. With each big change in her life, she wondered how her father would have felt. Would he have understood when she gave up religion and searched for spirituality through paths that were less dogmatic?

Then there was Stahura's Catholic upbringing. A good Catholic girl, she felt she had a calling to be a nun. But years later, long after quitting religion altogether, she found it difficult to tease out the origin of this one desire from the strands of her childhood. She loved the nuns because they commanded respect and people deferred to them. Families with a daughter-nun were held in high regard, as was the daughter herself for committing to a life of service in Jesus' name. Maybe she thought being a nun would free her—or perhaps it would please her parents.

Perhaps the most defining moment of her life happened when her husband Ken had a horrific motorcycle accident that left what she calls a "Brain Wreck" for both of them. She didn't know if her husband's injured brain would ever allow him to read or work or be the same intelligent, self-aware man with whom she'd fallen in love and married. She didn't know how long she could continue to care for him, more like a mother or a nurse than as a wife. She feared more than anything that the brain injury, which had kidnapped him, might also have replaced him with a stranger she could not love. None of these fears came to pass, and eventually, she had to allow him to once again navigate his own way in the hostile world, and she returned to what she had done before the "brain wreck." Her days of single-minded focus, in some ways the most meaningful time of her life as well as the most difficult, would be over.

Stahura reminds us that life is all about choices and learning how to change your mind when the moment is right. This is often the best gift you can give yourself. When we're mired in the muck, it's because we've exhausted all our usual options. This feeling of stuckness comes from applying traditional thinking and behavior to new situations and having them not work, repeatedly. The only way to free ourselves is to try something new. She gives us many reasons to believe that we can become the person we want to be and "give up what we think we know."

Barbara Stahura has been a full-time freelance writer since 1994. Her articles, essays, interviews, and poems have appeared in numerous publications and online. A believer in the magical power of keeping an open mind, she often takes a transformative approach to the ordinary in her writing and her life. She now lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, Ken Willingham, and their black cat, Goldie. Visit her website.

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