I’ve been thinking a lot lately about narratives. Narratives are the stories we tell, about ourselves, our loved ones, sometimes our not-so-loved ones. I had this realization the other day, that often narratives are all that is left of someone after they pass, as they grow into old age, or if they disappear for any other reason.
How often do we just take as fact “Aunt Bev was a feisty thing, but you wouldn’t want to cross her” or “Grandpa worked every day in his life because….(enter reason here)”. These characterizations are accounts completely colored by the perspective of the narrator. And these impressions are so often passed through families–and then down through generations–that then become accepted as fact. They are also very likely to become one of a few (if not the only) tidbit left of what once was–and may still be–a living, breathing, three dimensional person with feelings, thoughts, contradictions and infinite complexity.
Isn’t it amazing how we so often boil this all down to, say, the perspective of the lone living daughter and pass that on as fact and full representation. In this way, the very history of our families and origins are so altered by perspective (as is all history). Think about that next time you hear about someone you didn’t know, haven’t seen in ages, or hardly remember. Think about that next time you pass along a narrative: do you share only the good in someone? Do you overemphasize their weakest or most obnoxious qualities? Can your narrative include a more holistic version of this person and their life?
And perhaps most importantly–what is your own narrative? What piece of your personality, story, or behavior will be passed on to future generations? And are you happy with that? It may be a beloved grandchild or niece/nephew telling the story of you; it may be someone you never took much time with or never let see your whole self or who only heard one-sided version of stories from their tunnel-visioned parents.
History is revisionist. Take some time today to think about yours and the role you play in others.