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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd
2005-02-04 - 9:03 p.m.
To Tell or Not to Tell
The dilemma one faces when writing memoirs is whether to leave unsaid the unhappy or bad things that happened in one’s life, telling only the sunnier, less complicated stories. I think it is through examining one’s life during the negative times that we come to realize and appreciate the positive aspects, as the lessons were learned and talents and strengths gained and recognized. What is more important than showing a golden picture of an uninterrupted happy life is an honest picture of a real and flawed one. Life is what it is; there is great value for future generations to know about the dark moments, as well as the light ones, that happen in all lives; and even greater benefit to know that those dark times were survived and how.
As that great philosopher, Popeye, said, “I yam who I yam!” because of all of the things that happened in my life. I am who I am because of a series of events. There has also been a trickle-down domino effect from those events that make my children who they are, too. Yes, of course, it is not necessary to be deliberately hurtful to people who are living or to besmirch the names of the people in one’s past, but the truth as I saw it is what has impacted my life. Writing of past emotions recollected in the peace and tranquility of a new time help one to gain new perspectives in many cases, which is, in and of itself, of value.
This is my history. To omit the mistakes I made, the unpleasantness, the pain, and the grief I have experienced in my life, chronicling only the euphoric and peaceful times, would be akin to writing the history of our country without a long list of injustices. It would be like writing our world’s history without an account of all the wars or the unfair treatment of Indians, the long years of slavery and bigotry, the McCarthy House Un-American Activities hearings, the holocaust, the Salem and other witch hunts. I hope that the readers of my story will learn from my history, just as it is to be hoped that lessons are learned from the history of mankind.
Haven’t you noticed that as we read our shared writings our stories influence each other? In fact not only do they influence others, but they also replenish us as we write and receive responses; our shared stories give us hope and a sense of belonging.
I certainly don’t mean we should write gossipy things, telling the sordid or hurtful things of other people's lives. But for me, it is important to share the experiences, the feelings, the talents and skills, the humor, the capacity for endurance I found in the disenchanted worst of times or in the most dysfunctional of relationships. I believe I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs and the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense feelings of grief as well as the lessons I learned.
It is important to share how I know survival is possible, often through hard work, certainly not just a walk in the park. It is to be hoped that these stories will help to yield further insight into what it is to be alive, to be human. Moreover, writing through the deep valleys, through the pain and anguish, through anger and grief, sometimes helps me to reach a quieter place and to release the old feelings. Often I can even reframe the experience so that I can retrieve the good, I had not previously recognized. For as my grandmother used to say to me…”It’s an ill wind, indeed, that blows no good.”
Sometimes it takes a bit of raking to get rid of all the leaves and debris after a storm to locate new growth. Although it is easier to just avoid it, deny it ever happened or existed, in many cases, it has been writing the stories, good and bad, that has helped me isolate the elusive imponderable benefits. My life is a kaleidoscope of joy and sorrow, of health and illnesses, pain and death, of sun and darkness. Writing that story - warts and all - has been healing and I believe will prove helpful to the future generations of readers, as well.
It’s not a story with an ending yet – or ever. All I’m doing is writing a book to honor where I’ve come from and who and where we’ve been so far – at least as far as my memory and my truth is able. I’ve left some gaps and, of course, there are more stories to come. Hopefully, my children will want to add to my memoirs to fill in where I’ve left off…and from their own perspectives.