Tell me about your first job. Will you describe the tasks you did? or what you wore the first day? or what you were feeling on your way to the location? We each focus on different things. Often what remains in our memory is not the most significant thing but some visual image, or a sound, or the way our heart beat. I once heard an interview with film director Nora Ephron in which she described a visit to the Oval Office at the White House. What she remembered were that the drapes were so long that they dragged on the floor.
I mention this because I always encourage you to ask questions to your living older relatives to find out more about their lives. I wrote “The Woman in the Photograph” (it has not yet found its publisher but I’ll keep you posted) because I didn’t ask, and then spent the last twenty years trying to find out about my mother’s past. It has made a great mystery story, but not everyone wants to become a detective.
But here’s the interesting thing I am finding out. Just because you ask, it doesn’t mean you will find out what you want to know. I spoke recently to a friend who is fortunate enough to have a relationship with her mother who is alive and well. Somewhat inspired by my story, she asked her mother questions about her youth, her relationships, her hopes and dreams. And what she got back were mostly facts and events. Now this is also important, but I realized in her report that she craved inner experience: what was that like for you? how did that affect what you did next? did that change your beliefs or expectations? And mostly, her mother said, I don’t know.
We as a culture have become self reflective in a way that was not always true. We may be trying to understand others in ways they have not themselves examined. They are not necessarily forgetting. They may never have really looked closely at their motivations and the ways events in their lives changed who they are on the inside.
I think there’s alot to explore on this subject but I’ll stop here for now and welcome any comments or observations from you.