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Monday, March 26, 2012

You Know How Old You Are When….

We were hosting some undergraduate students from our alma mater, University of Michigan, for dinner. They were in St. Louis doing service projects over Spring Break. I got talking to one student who mentioned that her mother also graduated from the School of Nursing. I asked her what year she graduated, thinking it likely her mom and I were contemporaries. Imagine my shock when she told me her mother graduated 20 years after I did. I should have asked about her grandmother! How did this happen?

On the way home, my husband, who had had a similar experience, started musing that you know how old you are by what you spend your time doing:

Age 10: Birthday parties

Age 20: Fraternity parties

Age 30: Weddings

Age 40: Baby Showers

Age 50: Financial planning seminars

Age 60: Retirement parties

Age 70: Doctors

Age 80: Funerals

Age 90: The bathroom

Age 100: What do you care? You’re still breathing!

Adding to his assessment, it seems to me that it’s what we choose to do with the rest of our time that determines our quality of life every step along the way.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Irretrievable Memories

Besides misplacing names and the car keys, we lose real friends and relatives as the clock ticks by. We mourn them and take comfort in the lives they've led and memories of experiences we've shared. Some of our friends and relatives have led fascinating lives. I like to feel that I’ve led a pretty exciting life, missteps and blundering aside. The difference between me and many others is I’m a writer and I have written this stuff down. Right now, our son and his family have zero interest in having that record. They are focused on their own lives. But I like to hope that someday, someone will find my chronicles positively riveting.

When I recently interviewed five long-lived seniors about what they feel is important give life meaning, one of them said that we should all do a memoir, write down the most interesting parts of our lives in simple language to give future generations a window into how we lived and the events and people who shaped us. Great idea. Too many people have told me: I wish I had done that with my mom. Now she’s gone or she has dementia and I’ll never hear those stories.

About a decade ago, my husband’s aunt and uncle, siblings of his father, sat down in front of a videotape run by one of their children to talk about growing up with their parents, the Great Depression, and life in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They laughed and cried about particular memories and we all have a copy of that tape. Both are gone now. His aunt died a week shy of her 100th birthday, his uncle, younger.

Don’t be hesitant to do this. One time I was doing a book reading at a retirement apartment building and I urged my audience to write down their life stories for future generations. They looked skeptical. Perhaps most of them thought their future generations, like my family right now, didn’t care. After the talk, a 90-year old woman came up to me and said she had had an interesting life. As a very young woman, she went out West by herself and became a frontier schoolteacher, with many adventures. Then she said, “I never wrote about it because I was afraid people would think I was putting on airs.”

I offered to ghost-write it for her—for free, but she never took me up on it. There is a certain mindset about talking about yourself and she took those stories to the grave. What a loss.

In a world where too many people get paid to write or Tweet about the nconsequential minutiae of their lives, real stories of real people trying to live and love in their given circumstances are being lost. These stories have value for both their window into eras of our history, and for lessons to be learned in our own lives. Write it down, write it down, write it down.