Maybe that's why I want to take a moment to say that the High Holy Days were extremely meaningful to me for the first time in many years. Even though in September I didn't manage to follow my Sixty Days reflection and writing routines as faithfully as I managed to do in August, I kept at them regularly enough to develop a better understanding of the holiday liturgy and the nature of repentance itself in the Jewish scheme of things than I ever had before. The holiday services, with their deliberately arranged and chosen prayers and portions, welcome and remind, demand and support, challenge and understand, unsettle and comfort, and ultimately deposit one -- lightened, mindful, and hopeful -- on the threshold of a new year. Right now, I'm feeling grateful for the whole notion of "covenant with God" and for the heightened opportunity that the High Holy Days provide annually for attempting to "get it right" with God. I am grateful to those of you whose responses to some of my earlier blog posts have inspired me to keep reading, thinking, and trying.
In general, your responses to my blog have been inspiring and encouraging. First of all, some of you have actually left comments, and that's made for a conversation and company, not just my lone voice. Meanwhile, others of you have let me know that you're "lurkers" who read my blog but will probably never post response comments. A number of you non-bloggers have sent me thoughtful e-mails, facebook messages, and snail-mail notes in which you've shared your own relevant experiences, questions, and insights. Unfortunately, a few of you who are comfortable with the interactivity of blogging have actually tried to post -- only to have your comments evaporate into cyberspace for reasons that neither you nor I understand. But you wanted to post, and I appreciate that. If it's one thing I know, it's that ordinary time doesn't leave much time and space for blog-reading and blog-posting, let alone technologically thwarted blog-posting; so that you have made the time to read and (try to) respond, or even just to read, means so much to me.
Meanwhile, the existence of this blog has changed some of the conversations I'm having with people -- I suspect because I am making clear and they are recognizing how seriously I am taking myself as I attempt to prepare, in part by blogging, for the fast-approaching next phase of my life. If it's one thing I've been doing quite deliberately, it's been trying to recognize and capture those moments and experiences -- past and present -- that I think have the most potential to tell me about my authentic self, the self that I must be in real relationship with if I am to discover new, satisfying post-retirement paths. Simultaneously, and probably understandably, my interest in the moments and experiences that others feel have most defined and guided them has also grown.
When the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington came along, accompanied by a slew of magazine and television news stories about people's recollections of the March itself and the weeks before and after it, I realized that I had no personal memories of a moment that was critically and personally important to so many people whom I know, as well as to the nation as a whole. In August 1963, I was a seven-year old who had strong television memories of JFK's inauguration and of rockets leaving launch pads, and I carefully examined any photos of Caroline and John-John that came across my path. But the March on Washington never registered.
At a late August supper at the home of my friend Meg Anderson, who's just a few years older than I am, I asked if she remembered it. Meg told me that she remembered it vividly. Then we somehow got off-topic and she didn't share what she remembered.
If Meg's name seems familiar to you it may be because she posted a comment in response to my last blog post. Meg and I began to get to know each other when she became the Dean of Curriculum of one of CRLS' newly established small schools and my direct supervisor in 2000. Some years later, when she left CRLS to join the Center for Collaborative Education and lead its Principal Residency Program, in which my current principal participated, our already firmly established friendship continued. We've spent much time over the past decade discussing the state of education in general, new educational ideas and programs that seem promising, poems and books we love, and our personal struggles to balance the worlds of work and "non-work" -- and to envision next career and life steps.
A few days after Meg didn't get to share her March on Washington memories with me, I received an e-mail from her that was also addressed to her two daughters, both of whom are a young mothers, wives, and professionals. Meg had decided to share with all three of us her answer to my question. Her daughters knew some of the stories, but they'd never experienced them collected into a written whole.
The first thing I did was to do a little bit of online research about Viola Liuzzo, whom Meg had mentioned in her first paragraph and whose name I had never heard before. Then I read Meg's narrative start to finish, beginning again with her first sentence. Among other things, Meg wrote about serving as an usher when Martin Luther King came to her high school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan and hearing him -- and watching him -- speak to an audience that included strategic, venomous hecklers. She also told about her experience of expressing an unpopular race-related opinion at a town meeting and dealing with the consequences of that in the moment and afterwards. Always present in the narrative was Meg's mother, sometimes shielding Meg, sometimes supporting Meg's participation in public life, but always, always talking and listening to Meg, while responding herself to the events of the day.
I've known Meg for thirteen years, but as I read these stories, I felt that I had a much better understanding of how she had come to be the Meg whose integrity and moral judgment are trusted completely by so many of us. At the same time, I also realized that I had come to hear these stories almost accidentally -- because, over a delicious late-summer supper, I had chanced to ask her whether she had March on Washington memories, and because she had remembered that I'd asked her and decided to answer.
The serendipity of getting to hear stories about experiences that so powerfully shaped Meg made me wonder how often and why really important stories, stories in which narrative and reflection co-mingle explicitly or implicitly, don't get shared face-to-face or one-on-one. Folklife centers collect important stories, oral history projects proliferate, and radio shows such as "The Moth Radio Hour" thrive. Are we more apt to share our most significant stories, crafted to communicate that we recollect them with no less feeling over time and even perhaps to suggest that they are actually becoming more significant to us over time, with people we don't know personally?
So what is it that might make us hesitate to share our stories with friends and family? I understand that some of us are by nature quite private, but I am also wondering if there's something about the stories themselves and our relationships to them that holds us back from sharing. So here are some questions I'm wondering about:
- Do we simply love holding our important stories close, treasuring them as our own?
- Do our stories feel especially private to us because they're so personally important?
- Do we fear that we can't do them justice in the telling?
- Do we fear that our audiences won't understand why they matter so much to us -- and may not even try particularly hard to understand?
- Do we hold them back because they're precious to us -- but also still a little too mysterious to us to be shared just yet?
- Do we fear that others won't treat them as the precious things they are -- and might even jump in and assign them particular meanings that are more about who they are than who we are?
- Or do we keep them inside because they don't fit into the social discourse of the day, which is often a combination of reporting "the personal latest" and dissecting the events of "the day" more intellectually than personally?
There's an interesting moment in Howard's End when E.M. Forster lets us know that he has a story about a personal experience that he's not going to tell us. Explaining the affectionate, durable relationship shared by sisters Helen Schlegel and Margaret Schlegel, Forster comments, "There are moments when the inner life actually 'pays,' when years of self-scrutiny, conducted for no ulterior motive, are suddenly of practical use," adding that "Such moments are still rare in the West." That eight-word declaration, with its authoritative tone, informs me, "There's an important story to be told -- but it's certainly not going to be told here and now." Then, I begin to wonder how many readers see that there just might be an invitation here, that there just might be a door to open. Then I begin to wonder who will care.
Recently, Meg told me that I could post her story on my blog. Once she reconfirms, I will do so. Stories told seem to have so many potential effects: under the best of circumstances, they can deepen positive relationships, create nuanced understandings, illuminate our identities as members of groups and as the individuals we always are, even enlighten and inspire people who don't even know us. So I hope you'll respond here with your theories and comments -- and your stories. We'll hope for the best of circumstances -- but I'll count on you to bring up other points and ideas if you think my optimism needs some leavening.