Shared Experiences

How do we humans put single significant events into context in our lives?   We do a great job, for the most part, when the event is personal.  Most of us remember the birthday of those we love or celebrate anniversaries to mark a memorable event.  How do we incorporate those larger events into the history of personal lives?  We love a shared experience.

The Great Solar Eclipse of 2017 is still being discussed with “where were you?” when we see families or friends we haven’t seen since August 21st.  We want to hear their story, compare it to our experience and relive it as we share with a person in our lives who likes to listen to our stories. The frequency of the telling will fade.  There may be a lull at Thanksgiving dinner when someone brings it up to keep the conversation going.  However, the retelling and listening to others’ experiences make that memory solidified and ensures we can recount it in 40 years when a grandchild or great grandchild is studying it in school. I remember seeing the Hale-Bopp comet through Paul Crip’s amazing 18-inch Newtonian telescope in March of 1997 at our library and by just looking at the sky. Little did I know that I will probably not be alive when the next Great Comet passes over the northern hemisphere.  The Hale-Bopp Comet may not be here again until 4380 according to Cornell University astronomers and Halley’s Comet is predicted to arrive on July 28, 2061 as stated in an article by Elizabeth Howell, Contributor.  Wow!  I witnessed the Hale-Bopp comet and the Great Eclipse of 2017.  I consider both of these events as memorable.  Be assured my grandchildren and friends in my future nursing home will hear those stories more than once. Those are great and interesting natural phenomenon.  There is joy and awe in the telling.  Check outs of library materials on eclipses and comets soared around the time of the event.  Everyone wanted to extend the experience. We insatiable humans – always curious – always wanting more information – always seeking to understand.  Great events will trigger avid searching.

What of great tragedies?  How do those significant events fit into our personal history, especially in a time when social media makes things visible and shareable in real time?  I was not personally touched by Hurricane Katrina.  I love the city of New Orleans.  It has such a rich and visible history to share.  It has the ability to transport you into a truly unique culture and heritage right on the soil of the United States of America.  I experienced New Orleans before and after Katrina.  I saw first-hand the indomitable spirit of a people who vowed to rebuild the place they love.  Those who stayed or returned now prosper.  Those who built new lives other places on new dreams are to be honored.  The horror for the people who experienced Katrina is etched in my memory. The valor and resilience they’ve shown is marked on my soul. I am worried now about those who migrated from New Orleans to Houston to start their lives anew only to experience extreme flooding again.  When my grandchildren or great grandchildren ask about these events, the telling will be somber and told as it was witnessed, from a great distance.  However, great books and small books brought the reality closer for me.  Some of my favorite mystery writers live in the south and several in New Orleans.  Their characters and series are set in the city.  As time passed, and in great reverence for the reality of the disaster, these authors started to write of that time from a human, internal perspective that we could not otherwise experience having not lived through it.  A news story or historical account only reports on what has happened to people and things.  Fiction can take you into their hearts and emotions as words on a page become part of your thoughts and create feelings, encouraging empathy in a different way. Novelist, the database that helps fiction readers find new things to read, lists 88 novels written with Katrina as a setting for children through adults. Any employee at an Ask Here Desk can show you how to use this great resource.

Keep telling your stories of the big and little experiences of your life and listen avidly to those told by others.  Keep seeking words on pages that can educate, engage and enlarge our understanding. We love a shared experience.  Find that shared experience with the next person you meet.

~Carey D. Hartmann