Everybody has a chapter they don’t read out loud
We all have a “story” of our life. It is full of the things we have done (and not done). Some lead to wonderful outcomes, the stories we love to tell. We build our own personal myth, a place where we are the “hero,” or at least the good guy. This is our persona we reveal to the outside world.
We also have regrets (bad behavior, harsh words, or spiteful actions). We damage relationships and torpedo opportunities. We often see the road not taken and the outcomes unrealized. These are the stories we keep locked up, our private keepsakes. They represent the pieces of our lives that scare us, the things that, if other people knew, would have them see us in all of our flawed glory and not as we would have them believe.
This behavioral dichotomy has become prescient for me of late. It started with Pam, who is my trusty colleague. She has worked with me for over 20 years (How she has put up with me, I cannot fathom, but she does). For my last birthday she got me a subscription to “Storyworth.” It gives weekly prompts for you to write about your life (e.g., “Who was your first boss?”). It helps you unfold and divulge your personal story.
Part of my motivation for doing this is to ensure that my children know their dad in a way I did not my own father. He was a complex person, a man of a different generation. He overcame obstacles. He was a career Army officer who fought in two wars. He was often hard, but always loving under the surface. I never asked him to tell me about his life. This is one of the greatest regrets. I only understand him (and my mother) in snippets and inferences.
This process has been fun. I love it; I hate it. I am writing it as a gift to my children. I hope to help them understand who their father was and why he is who he is today.
I have been able to reminisce about a rather colorful life. My brother has helped me “remember” some of the important (often humorous) events we shared. Other recollections I have had to dredge up through the murky waters of my memory. Sadly, I find that much of the tale has been lost to me. I don’t pretend that what I write represents the “truth.” After all, it is not history; it is “my story” (at least how I chose to remember it).
Rather than answer the specific questions or layout a chronological path, I have decided to tell my life through “threads.” (My life in books or music or even vehicles I have owned). Together they weave a mosaic that when combined, I hope will create a picture of “me” that will give my kids a deeper understanding, particularly of parts of a past they did not experience (e.g., my years as a combat arms officer in the military).
I come across not necessarily noble or great, but neither am I a villain. The difficulty has been deciding what to put in and what to leave out. “What is your best relationship advice?” (Don’t listen to me). I skipped that one. The great conundrum: How tarnished do I want to allow my legacy to be?
I have mostly been open (at least how I remember things). I have told the fun and humorous adventures (like riding my bike with my eyes closed into a parked car and chipping a tooth). I have also tried to tell the “bad” pieces or at least alluded to them. I have not found the courage to tell “all” the gory details. I have convinced myself that they might create a skewed perception (the bad is usually more memorable than the good). Whether this is a correct supposition is debatable, but again this is “my” story and I get to express it in my way.
I am writing this piece, not to tell my story, but (I hope) to encourage both the young and old to find a way to cross the boundaries of time and create a deeper understanding. Of course I realize that family roots run deep in Appalachia and many people know their history. (I actually have a connection to Appalachia that I barely understood. My grandfather worked with the Corps of Engineers in the region during the Great Depression).
Never-the-less, I would suspect that there are many people who have a similar experience to mine. There are holes in places where there should be fascinating pictures. Don’t let that stand. Ask the questions. You may find there is a fascinating story behind a somber face. We truly cannot create a vibrant future without understanding our important past.