We don’t remember the same things, you and me.
We may be at the same place at the same moment and experience the same event, but we don’t remember the same things. I may remember the song that was playing on the radio; you may remember the color of my socks. I may remember how quickly the sky changed; you may remember the broken red jewel of your granddaughter’s wind chime. We don’t remember the same things because we don’t perceive the same things. What is emotional for one may be run of the mill for another.
Our experiences are shaped by our emotions, by our knowledge, by our convictions, and world view, giving context to whatever it is we are currently experiencing.
I learned this a few years back when my cousin and I were sharing memories about our grandmother. Our memories of her, though centered on many of the same moments in our shared past, were vastly different—vastly unique—because of our emotions and the context of our personal lives.
I remembered this a couple of weeks back when I read a Lanterns piece from Anolagay Sonnenfelt. She wrote:
“Every person, every generation, every culture, every society has a story—has value.”
And I remember it again today as the news floods in of the devastation in Houston and surrounding areas. Every person battling the flood waters, every volunteer trying to help, every neighbor checking on those around him, every emergency response person—every single one of them has a story. And try as we may, you and I can never tell a story so well as the person who lives it. The very things that make our own stories unique (emotions, convictions, etc.) also render us mostly inadequate to tell someone else’s story on our own merit.
But this is also true: Every person who is looting, who is taking advantage of the terrible circumstances, and counting his own gain as paramount—he also has a story that cannot be told by anyone else.
See, the question is not whether your story will be remembered. It may, and it may not be. You can try to take steps to ensure that your story—and others’ stories—are remembered (as I’m doing now), but there are no guarantees.
The question is whether your story will be one that mattered.
Listen, you cannot change anyone else’s story. There’s only one you can change, and it’s your own. I urge you to do so.
Change your story. Today. Just for today, forget the squabbles that we allow to separate us from one another. Reach out to those in need—those around you, in your own family, your own community, but also those in the rising floodwaters in the South. Or maybe, especially those in the South. After all, your friends and family can respond to your kindness with returned kindness; those in the South will likely never know your name or what you’ve sacrificed to care for them. In the end, however, you will know.
Some years from now, you and I will be looking back, sharing our memories of this tragic moment in our shared history, and you will know. You will remember your involvement, whatever it was. Will you look back with a sense of gratitude that you were able and willing to be involved? Or will you wish you had done more?
Find an organization you can trust, and support the work they’re doing in the South—not to save political agendas or expensive toys or even homes. Support the work they’re doing to save lives. In the end, that’s the one thing we all share in common, a theme that weaves its way through all our stories.