It was a long time ago, about six years, that an email arrived from a woman who said she had no stories to tell because her life had been so ordinary. In my response titled (Extra)ordinary Lives on Time Goes By, I ended with this:
”Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).
“So let’s say it together one more time: No lives are ordinary.”
That was posted two years before the inauguration of The Elder Storytelling Place and now, after nearly five years of that blog with stories written by dozens of interesting elders, I believe what I said in 2005 even more. I was reminded of it yesterday morning when notification arrived of a comment on a different post – this one from January 2011 titled When Does Old Age Begin?
Lucy, a new reader or one who has not commented before, says she feels that her “life is gone (or a lot of it) and I have no memories, no experience. The time has just gone and I didn't even realize it.” She continues:
”I feel like I missed the boat on everything and that I have been sleeping my way through my life (I mean metaphorically, not being promiscuous) just being a housewife and getting divorced and remarried, dating and such. That is it.
“I have reached 59 years and have nothing to look back on. I had one son, but always feel and know I was not the best mother. Was in a bad marriage and such. No life experience though, I never just did anything, like I read about every one else who is older.
“I regret my past, and that is probably why I am so afraid of getting older. I even just got my driver's license last year at 58.”
(You can read Lucy's entire comment here.)
Whoa. There is a lot going on in those few sentences. On the downside: empty memories, insecurity, fear of aging, ennui, regret. But look at what else: a son raised, learning to drive at an age most people would not attempt it, being a housewife which is so much more that “just.” And all parents know they didn't do everything well.
And I wonder what else Lucy would like to have done that she did not? Sometimes our youthful dreams are overblown (that's why they're called dreams).
When I was in my early teens, I secretly decided that when I grew up I would cure cancer. I was serious about that and held onto it for many years. Please don't laugh. I wanted to make a difference to the world – to which Lucy alludes.
Well, to cure cancer, first you need to like math and science - the particulars of them, not just the oh, wow aspects and that was never going to be me. Plus, one of the things history teaches us is that there are only so many Jonas Salks per generation.
So of course, I disappointed myself. It took a long time – decades - but I eventually learned that we all make differences in other people's lives and if not on such a grand scale as landing a crippled airplane on water saving everyone on board (that's why we have heroes), in smaller ways that are equally great to the people they affect.
And where would the world be if we were not – each one of us – contributing to other people's well-being every day adding up to hundreds, even thousands of ways over a lifetime.
Sometimes we don't even know what good we have done until someone, years later, tells us as has happened to me a couple of times – much to my enormous surprise.
One thing I would suggest is that Lucy spend some time reading The Elder Storytelling Place. There are 1200 stories there now, every one of them written by “ordinary” people about their “ordinary” lives – drama, comedy, tragedy, reminiscence, history, life, birth, death, fears, triumphs, marriage, divorce, sacrifice, successes, failures and laughs – oh, so many laughs.
It is a brave thing Lucy did to leave this comment here among strangers and one of the few things I know for certain about life is that if one person knows, feels or believes something, so do many others.
Lucy is not the only one having these thoughts and I suspect some, like me, have been there and managed to work through it. So some crowdsourcing would benefit a lot of people. Here is what else Lucy wrote:
”I just do not know how to feel and I thought that maybe someone would read through this and offer some words of wisdom on how or what I could do and how to look at my life now.
“As I said everyone, I mean everyone has a life of experiences to look back on, some contribution made by their work and such. If I had that I probably would not mind getting older, and losing my looks and stuff. I could have felt that I had done something worthwhile in this world.
“Well, I am repeating myself now. I hope some one may offer their insight or opinions to me.”
There is a lot of wisdom among readers of this blog. Let's share some of it today.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Roses