"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
This quote is burned into my memory. David McCullough reads it as the opening track on the Ken Burns Civil War soundtrack. (I know, deep nerd stuff here. I have soundtracks to documentaries. Yes. That should be plural.) Although I have heard this a considerable number of times, I never quite understood what Holmes meant until September 11, 20013.
It was my first time teaching middle school since the world had drastically changed in 2001. I was trying to talk to my middle school students about that day, but they didn't share my sorrow and passion as I remembered. They weren't disrespectful, just blank. They told me they didn't remember because most of them hadn't been alive that day or if they were they had been infants. Of course they knew about it in the way that I know about Pearl Harbor, but they didn't know. They didn't feel the loss. The fear. The uncertainty. The mysterious connection with strangers just because we were all experiencing something together. The incommunicable experience of war.
That day was awful. I remember times during the following days in which I experienced crushing sadness. I remember sitting in the break room of Eddie Bauer reading a paper with two horrific stories. The first told of day care workers having to deal with children who were never picked up by their parents that day because their parents were no more. The second told of parking lot owners dealing with cars that no one would be returning to claim. Both of these left me heartbroken, but when I try to communicate with those who were too young to remember, my feelings are . . . incommunicable.
Those of us who remember that day shared some thing horrible, but also uniting. We felt the passion of life and the fire in our hearts. I wish one generation could easily share their experiences with the next, but unfortunately that is just impossible, not for lack of trying, but because that is not how experience works. The sadness of loss, the terror of uncertainty, and the pride we felt for our heroes is simply incommunicable.
Incommunicable . . . If you remember September 11, 2001, and you get the chance to share your story with young people around you, remember that word. Do your best to tell a compelling story, but don't get frustrated when they don't get it. It's not their generation or a character flaw. It's the nature of experience. If you don't remember that day, please respect those who wish to talk about it and commemorate it. You will inevitably experience things that others will not. Remember that try as you might, some experiences are just incommunicable.
Yesterday was my son's twelfth birthday. He is spunky and always ready with a themed outfit. He's been a companion for me and a source of both joy and frustration, but I wouldn't trade the opportunity to be his mom for the world. Sometimes he asks if we are friends and I tell him no. I say that when he is all grown up we can be friends, and no, twelve is not grown up.
Logan LOVES traditions. Adores them would be more appropriate. If something happens more than once it is a tradition. He celebrates ALL holidays and wants to be with people as much as possible.
One of his favorite things is a birthday book I made him when he was a baby. For his first five birthdays I followed him around and took pictures of what he did the whole day. I put those pictures and the pictures and invitations from his birthday parties in this birthday book and now we pull it out every year. I stopped after five years because now he can remember his birthdays and we don't host birthday parties every year. As time goes on I know that this book will remain a favorite each year.
I no longer scrapbook, but at the time scrapbooking was a creative outlet for me. I loved the opportunity to create and tell a story. Posting photos on Facebook and Instagram is great for those adults in our lives, but I would highly recommend making memory books for the little ones you know. My sister-in-law sent Logan a Snapfish photo book with pictures he took while he was visiting them. It was a simple photo book, but it showed all the fun things he did throughout his time them. Although this visit took place five years ago, he still looks at the book often. Because of these photos his memories of things are stronger and more vivid.
Below are some photos of the book and a few of the pages. If you click on the image you can read the captions. The party ideas came from a variety of sources including Family Fun magazine, Parenting, and Pinterest. (I would site specific sources if I still had the articles, but they are long gone. If you find one please let me know and I will tag the originator of the idea.) The Bundt cake pans were from William Sonoma and they are a particular favorites of mine.
I love to read. A lot. But for the sake of my writing here, I feel the need to define what that means. It seems weird to "define" reading, but there are so many viewpoints out there I just want to get my view point out there so we are all on the same page. Or screen. Or whatever.
Aparently there are debates among readers about what "counts" as reading. Doesn't that sound goofy? What counts. We aren't in third grade here, but according to Daniel Willingham the aggression aimed at audio books could be an elementary school hold out. When we think people are using a device that gives them an advantage we challenge them and get upset, but really, if information and ideas are spread, aren't we all winning?
I am a promiscuous reader. That may sound bad, but it doesn't mean I read smutty or inappropriate material, rather my reading is characterized by indiscriminate mingling or association with a variety of formats. When I say, "I read ______." I may be referring to any of the following formats. This is what I love to read:
“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn't carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” ― Stephen King
One of the reasons I say that I read instead of I listened to is that often people will not discuss a book with someone who merely listened to it. On several occasions I've talked to people who feel uncomfortable calling themselves readers because they listen to audio books. Sometimes these people struggle with dyslexia or other learning disabilities yet still love powerful writing and moving storytelling. They've experienced Jane Eyre and The Devil in the White City, but don't feel worthy to participate in discussions about it because they've heard that listening doesn't count. I want to discuss ideas and books with all who love books instead of promoting snobbery.
Audio books are an excellent way to get kids lost in a great story without the stress of decoding text. Their brains are still breaking down information and making sense of the language. They can develop a love for stories before they gain the ability to read complex writing. When he was in second grade, Logan and I listened to the Lord of the Rings together and Logan followed every word. This was long before he could have tackled a book like this on his own and we didn't have enough time before bed to tackle the three volume masterpiece. Kids do need to spend significant time with text to work on those decoding skills, but audio books can be great companions on road trips or daily errands. (If you're interested in other benefits of audio books click here.)
I don't read because I enjoy the feeling of my eyes decoding text into words. I read because I love to gain the information and experience the sense of getting lost in a marvelous story. As I talk about things I've read I will not differentiate the formats of the books. If you are curious about my reading you can check out my goodreads account. I read a great variety and often I read things I do not agree with to challenge myself with new ideas and to make myself aware of opposing viewpoints. If you are curious about a particular book, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Matching books to people is one of my favorite things.
I don’t like to work out with friends, because I’m also kind of a loner and I’m also terribly wimpy. Once, I went to a weight training class with a friend and discovered she was a beast! She was upping the instructor’s suggested weights and lifting with ease! Meanwhile, I was struggling with half the weight and staring at the clock waiting for this torture to end. The next day she was gracefully ambling around while I moved with the ease of a ninety four year old woman. By attending the class, I learned to respect my friend’s physical prowess and gained new found respect for her. Did I go back? What am I crazy?! No. No, I did not. But I got a great story out of the experience. See? This whole paragraph would have been empty without that story. So many paragraphs of the story of my life would be empty without having endured painful experiences. Even though I don’t like something while I’m experiencing it, when it’s over I find a way to turn it into a good story. It’s made my life so much more enjoyable.
This turning-bad-experiences-into-a-great-story thing is not unique to me. It's pretty much the majority of what you will hear if you listen in on a gathering of Booths. The crazier the story the more we get excited to share it with our audience. These story telling gatherings were my first introduction into why experience collecting was so valuable. We didn't have to be rich in money or possessions. We took the experiences we encountered and used them to enrich our lives.
Collecting experiences isn’t as easy as collecting Starbucks mugs, t-shirts, or bumper stickers, but experiences are much more rewarding. They enrich my life as a reader, learner, and employee. Experiences have made me a more interesting person and they have made me a more interested person. I can hold my own at a dinner party with a story to share about one of my experiences and I am interested to hear about others experiences.
Collecting experiences has taken me down some rather unusual paths, but that’s the point, right? While in St. Louis with Logan, we were slowly wandering toward our dinner destination. During our walk we ended up splashing and laughing in a park fountain. By the time we were done we were both soaked and disheveled looking, but we had a lot of laughs and made some great memories. (This park seemed to allow this activity. I wouldn’t recommend splashing in random public fountains.)
I’ve seen a performance at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, walked on the Great Wall of China, and stood on the top of the Empire State Building. I've also snuggled a new born baby, cooked with my mom, and danced in the rain. Experiences can be big and grand, but they don't have to be.
Sometimes collecting experiences can be perceived as expensive because experiences seem better in exotic locations. But don’t believe that you have to spend big to begin your collection. All it takes is the actions I’ve mentioned previously. You need to be a learner and reader so you know why something is an experience worth collecting and you need to be willing to explore. Why is it worth it to eat a brownie at the Palmer House? Because it is where brownies were first invented. So after eating it you can say that you have tasted the original brownie. Being willing to explore will push you beyond your comfort zone. If your friends are going camping and have invited you, consider going even if you aren’t a camper. This doesn’t mean it has to be a regular thing, but you can say that you did it and create lasting friendships and community along the way.
Sometimes these experiences don’t go as you intended. That’s okay. Go with the flow. One time I took students and Logan down to the Museum of Science and Industry for a lecture about Project 120 and Jackson Park. It ended with me climbing in the koi pond to fish out Logan’s toy boat. I could have been really mad. I could have chastised Logan and lamented that the day was a disaster, but what a story. After the lecture we headed out and had a tour of the island given by the president of Project 120 and the director of Chicago’s parks and recreation department. Our group met the president and even took a few photos with him. We then toured the Wooded Island and visited the Japanese Garden. This was beautiful. The cherry blossom trees were blooming and the garden, which was not even open to the public yet, was peaceful and inviting. Our group wandered all over the garden until we heard Logan calling. He had sunk his toy boat in the koi pond. The same koi pond we had just heard about in the lecture. The same koi pond that had just recently been cleared of years’ worth of litter and debris. The same koi pond that the director of parks and recreation department, the president of Project 120, and other official-ish people were now standing around. I contemplated what to do. Logan wanted his boat back. Jason had purchased him that boat as a special present so he would have been disappointed at its loss. I knew wading in the pond probably wasn’t encouraged. I also knew that they had only recently completed the clean-up effort and wouldn’t be thrilled about seeing a sunken toy boat in the pond. The parks director and other officials were staring at me to see what I would do. Logan and my students were watching. I sat down on a bolder, removed my boots, pushed up my leggings, and climbed in the pond. After removing the toy boat and seeing the stricken faces of the officials I held up the boat and proclaimed, “I didn’t want to litter!” One of the representatives of the parks department came over and shook my hand and said it was the most valiant effort in litter removal that he had ever seen. What started as an intellectual outing with students turn into a debacle that included a teacher in the pond. Despite the cold and the embarrassment the day was ultimately a success because we all got a great story.
Do things that are unique, fun, and sometimes weird. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes these things scare will scare you, but that’s okay. Face your fears and proceed. Some things, like zip lining were terrifying at first, but then they become thrilling. My experiences also help me better know myself. How do you know if you don't like something if you've never tried it? I have tried to like fish. I really have, but I can say with confidence and authority that I don’t like fish or other sea food. When I say that people often tell me that I haven’t tried it in the right places, but I can respond, “I’ve tried it in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Portland, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts, and Monterey, California.” I don’t like camping and I know it because I’ve done it a few times. I did enjoy sleeping in the tent with my friends though so I’m glad my parents encouraged me to go. I have really tried to like roller coasters, but I don’t. I just don’t. Sorry, Cedar Point.
I hope to look back on my life and remember the things I have done and the places I have visited with fond memories, thankful for how each experience has enriched my life. Collect experiences to fill your life with interesting paragraphs that will fill in the boring mundane details of your chapters. Some chapters are duller than others so they need more interesting paragraphs as fillers. So let's get experiencing together!
A Few of My Favorite Experiences
1. Being at Stonehenge for the summer solstice sunrise.
2. Running a marathon. I'm really slow, but I love being able to say I've done it. I've done a total of 6 (thus far).
3. Goat Yoga. This one is just too odd not to love. There are some people who find goat yoga a beautiful expression of connecting with nature, but I found it difficult to fully relax with the possibility of getting pooped on being present.
4. Staying up late to watch a meteor shower. A few of my former students visited me last summer and we sat in the driveway wrapped in blankets to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The photo below isn't mine. That night we put the electronics away and just watched and talked. Also that's WAY more stars than we could see from our home in suburbia.
5. Visiting Platform 9 3/4. My niece and I thought the idea was original. Apparently we were wrong, but nevertheless we had a great time.
What are some of your favorite experiences?
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."