The Fullness of Experience

I’m in the midst of taking an online class with which I have a sort of love/hate relationship.  I do love the commitment to read the lectures and comments, to think about something so different from my daily work and to challenge myself with the weekly homework submissions. And, on the other hand, I don’t love (hate is truly too strong a word here) and sometimes really feel pressured to squeeze this one more thing and one more obligation into my very full days.  Still and all, there is more positive than negative in broadening our viewpoints, in stretching our minds, in continuously learning.

The course I’m taking is a writing class and it’s focused on memoir.  I’d taken the level one class a number of years ago and loved it.  I’ve talked about taking the level two, I’ve toyed with the idea, I’ve filled out the registration form but this time I finally clicked the submit button.  There are about 15 people in my class and the instructor provides lectures each week, on which we have commentary and discussion. There is also a weekly assignment geared to the lecture and twice during the 10 weeks we each have an opportunity to submit a piece for critique by the group.  I am impressed by the number of people in my class (most I think) who are seriously writing books and sharing sections or chapters.  I’m not that person, I have no oeuvre in process so am creating my works for class, both the weekly as well as the longer assignments.

One of the things that I’ve worked on in my writing has been to really flesh out details in each story or scene.  We’ve all learned to be concise and efficient with our words, keeping the telling of something to “just the facts ma’am” and being conscious of not rambling or adding unnecessary detail.  Yet to really tell a story, to really convey the experience, requires us to add those details back in so that others can fully understand it.  It’s caused me to stop and think about those elements, things I take for granted as I see the story in my mind’s eye but things no one else would know or understand unless I shared them.  As well, it is equally, if not more, important to complete the story with how things made us feel, what we experienced on an emotional level as well.

Stories from our lives are not, and cannot be, dispassionate recitations of events.  This happened, that happened and the next thing happened—that’s not what life truly is nor does it tell the whole story.  Yet how often we share that way, how often we listen that way as well.  As we listen to the older adults in our lives, as we try to capture the experiences that only they can share, how much richer would it be if we encouraged them to tell us the details?  Asking them what a place looked like, to describe it fully, asking them to share what the people looked like, asking them to share how they felt in a situation, all of that will not only make the memory more full and real but the sharing so much richer.  Life is not lived in one dimension, sharing stories of our lives should be multi-dimensional as well.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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