Worthy of biographies

“Every human life is worth a biography if only we could find the right
author.”  Ruby Ewan, retired school teacher from Montana

Yesterday we held a memorial service for my mother, and David Kratz, the minister conducting the service, wove the quote above — which I love — into his commentary.   In the minds of most people,  fame or celebrity status are the only characteristics that entitle a person to a written biography.  We have been taken captive by the idea that our lives are of little consequence or at least terribly dull when compared to the lives of movie stars, singers, politicians, curers of disease, and other well-known — and wealthy — people. In fact, all of us have many life stories that could inspire, amuse, and inform others, but rarely are we conscious of them, much less willing to share.  And our typical social encounters don’t offer much opportunity for bringing up any topic deeper than a commentary on the latest hit movie or book.

The other point Rev. Kratz made while describing my mother, was that he could only share the piece of her life that he knew or had heard about, and that none of us could truly know anyone else completely.  It would be hard not to agree.  The people I worked with see in me a different person than my mother saw or my husband sees. Rarely are we aware of others’ thoughts, their dreams, their fears, even if we’ve been friends for years.  These normally stay buried within.

Maybe if we started to see our lives and the lives of our friends as more worthy of biography, we could also learn more about them while they’re with us, instead of waiting to hear about a small slice of their lives described at a funeral.  Earlier this year, a friend who was celebrating her birthday asked her guests not to bring gifts; instead she wanted to record a piece of their family history.  Who in their lives influenced them the most? A parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle? And where did this influence take them?  These interviews represented a significant departure from our normal conversations.  I found them interesting, moving, and helpful in understanding how early life experiences shaped friends I met in adulthood but did not know at a younger age.

“There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.  For anyone fifty or older, this Russian proverb might help each of us become “the right author” for at least one individual’s biography.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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2 Responses to Worthy of biographies

  1. Jill Turnell says:

    What a wonderful idea for a birthday party!! It must have made for a great occasion – and even those of you who had to think of the significant person in your life must have had a good time reviewing your life to decide which one had the greatest influence.

    I am of the “my life isn’t that interesting and who would care anyway?” club. I guess we always think everyone else has more to talk about than we do.

  2. Dick Clark says:

    wonderful commentary — the trick is to learn enough about people to appreciate why their life is worthy of a biography

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