As I sit in a hotel room in Newark during a weekend away, wonderfully spent with extended family, both my husband’s and my own, I think about the ties that bind cousins together, how close they can be growing up, the different paths they embark on in adulthood, and how wonderful it is to reconnect and rediscover each other.
Family trees have both roots and branches. What connects us goes back in time to family stories and history, and reaches forward as well. Listening to my husband and his cousins speak about the time they spent together as children and talking with my own cousin about how he remembers the first time my mother brought my father to meet the family – makes me thankful for opportunities to document memories, like the book I’ve been working on with my parents (I mentioned this project in another blog on history). When memories grow fuzzy and loved ones pass on, how will family histories be preserved?
Today, more and more people document not their past but their daily lives on social media. On the one hand, there is something to be said for being able to look back at Facebook memories and reconstruct one’s day. I find it useful and comforting. On the other hand, what does it mean when some post only posed, curated and carefully edited pictures of their life for others to see? In the world of lived experiences, how lived are experiences that are staged for the camera?
While it is important to find the right balance of how much we allow technology to dictate how we live in the moment, it is also important to consciously decide to capture our own and our relatives’ stories. There are two separate issues, I know, but they both are tied together. Honest memories are hard to come by – memory is fallible and incomplete. How often have you and someone else remembered the same situation very differently? But it’s all we have. And so it must be captured before the storytellers are gone.
We also must try not to create a life for others to see, but to record ours accurately if we are to record it at all. Let it be something we can look back on years down the road and know that what is portrayed is honest and true.
As I myself age and my memories falter and as I see more families struggling with loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer’s and other conditions, I can truly appreciate how vital it is to commit to recording one’s life in a way that our children’s children can read it and discover who we are. If we think about the past, the present and the future, we can more faithfully tend to both our family tree’s roots and to its branches.