Photo by Helga WebberYesterday I was hit over the head with a hammer regarding the durable part of memory. While we were fellow travelers in Africa, Alice and I spoke briefly about a paper she wrote in grad school while she was studying to be a psychotherapist. She read a pile of memoirs and synthesized some conclusions. Had we not been on vacation, I would have hammered her with questions, but at the moment, admiring elephants was more important.
Early yesterday I recalled that conversation with regard to my upcoming presentation on writing and healing. Maybe Alice could tell me a few things not already "out there." I quickly jotted an e-mail, asking about her dissertation (well, I assumed that's what it was). She quickly responded. "I don't know what you are talking about. My dissertation was on (something very different)." I wrote back and reminded her of the memoir reading and how she said she had wept her way through much of the project.
"OH! That project!" It was not a dissertation. It was in a class on Jungian psychology and for each one she read, she had to derive and write some personal synthesis thing. Obviously this is a Jungian concept or practice I am not familiar with, but that detail doesn't matter. Her only memories of the experience were of the intense pain of going through it, both the reading and the personal analysis. None of the hard data or details of her insights or the titles of the memoirs have stuck over the intervening thirty several years. The experience affected her on a deep level and shaped her life.
The mention of memoir and the report of weeping, the emotional part, is what I remembered. Emotions, feelings, those are the enduring parts of memory, and they matter so much, because they shape our lives. I remember the connection with memoir because it is intensely personal value-laden for me and resonated strongly.
Weaving those emotions into our stories is every bit as important as any possible facts surrounding the experience. Indeed, the emotions, the feelings, may be the story — as in this case.
There is another angle to this story that Alice and I have discussed. That is the power of reading about the experience of others, empathizing with that experience into our own lives. Deeply immersing ourselves in reports of other lives, real or fictitious, can be as powerful as going through the experience ourselves and often less costly in every respect.
That certainly sheds more light on the value of sharing our own stories. We may help someone else get through a rough patch of their own, whether that gravel lies in their past, present or future.
Write now: about reading a memoir — or a novel — that affected you deeply and caused you to view your life a little differently. Something that made a deep impression. Tell how it affected you, and what you remember of the experience.