Recently, I embarked on an effort to put what I remember of my life down on paper. Utilizing my writing process, I spend time each day opening a long-closed door and blowing the dust off of things dormant in my memory.
Everyone lives their life, and underneath the present is a tapestry of events, people, and influences. Those elements comprise a spiritual chemical reaction to produce “my life.”
Why would I want to take the time to start sifting through my life and detailing the moments which have “stuck?”
One is for me. As I write these words every morning, I got a chance to get a vision into what makes me me.
Many people don’t recognize the good, bad, and ugly of their lives. Ghosts haunt mental hallways and create spiritual trapdoors. You get to listen again to a seven-year-old as he picks up a horny toad and rubs its belly. Or you can hear the pop of a fist in an old baseball mitt. Or feel the pain of standing at a grave. Everything in life becomes the chisel that chips away at our personhood, leaving what we see in the mirror every morning.
The second personal reason is I have found extreme joy going back and reliving events again. You can smell the freshly mowed grass of a baseball field, and an anxious 8-year-old standing on it donned in the colors of a Little League Uniform. I could feel the snow on my face as I fell face down on a sled at the top of a slope. I could run away from the charging German Shepherd at the corner as I walked to school.
I rediscovered friends from childhood, went back in their houses, and listened to our laughter. I went back into the doors of a church of my youth and remembered where Mrs. Wilson sat and the man who came along with three young daughters in tow.
These revisited events open old smiles and reawaken long-lost sensations.
But this is not an idle exercise in nostalgia. It is leaving breadcrumbs for others.
I am also writing for a yet-unknown audience.
One day I will be gone. I will leave grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will remember an old man who handed out cookies and candy against their mothers’ wishes. I want them to know I was like them once.
I have learned from my grandchildren how little connection they have with the past. They look at pictures of my father and mother. With a quizzical look on their face, they say, “who is that?” When I reply, “that’s my mother and father,” they say, “You had a mother and father?”
Much of practical adult living is connecting generations. Sadly, our society’s affliction with the “right now” leaves it with a specter of a perspective. There’s something there, but it is both unseen and easily ignored.
Perhaps, one day, my grandchildren and their children will look at my picture and ask, “who is that?” I want a story to go with the pixels on the page.
And after all, memories fade like Kodak film from the 1960s. The day may come when I won’t remember as much as I do now. It is the right time to weave the tapestry and put it in an electronic cedar chest.
What have I learned through this process?
Everyone’s life is fascinating in its own way. I know people say, “nothing much has happened in my life.” My friend, the devil is in the details. It’s the day-to-day that makes up life. Your days are not my days. Nothing is average. Each day takes a unique personality and mixes in the moments to make a life.
When I was a boy, my dad preached on Sundays at a little church in Espanola, NM, north of Santa Fe but south of Taos. Outside of town was a little town called Chimayo. There was a small building that sold “Indian blankets.” They were all hand-woven on a loom. The shuttle passed through the loom to create the warp and woof of the fabric. The threads formed colors and patterns as they matted together. finally, the blanket was complete.
I think everyone needs to get down to thread-level with their lives to see how rich they really are.
I am nowhere near finishing but will use the next few years to work through the process. It will never be like Manchester’s multi-volume biography of Winston Churchill. It will also never publish. But perhaps the future generations of my family may wonder, “what was going on inside of that guy?” I want to give them an answer.