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Life Stories Are Due Tomorrow
For the course I'm taking this semester on life history and leadership, our own life histories (to this point) are due on Monday. We get to read one another's and then each of us will be assigned one of them to be the lead reader, and to provide commentary and help interpret it.
In my insecurity at the prospect of producing it, I remember trying to feel superior, and thinking about the majority of the class, who are half my age: How substantial could their life stories be? And then I felt ashamed on the ride home, as I recalled hearing the author Joyce Carol Oates speak once, and how I was hurt by her similar attitude: I was 30 years old at the time and raised my hand during her Q&A to ask a question about memoir writing.
"A memoir? You have to have *lived* [enough years] to write a memoir," she said, and I disliked her then. She went on about how eager her undergraduate students sometimes were to write memoirs and how inappropriate it seemed to her due to their youth.
I thought she was mean to be so discouraging...and here I was, thinking the same way just 12 years later. Maybe the difference is that I saw my bigotry and was chagrined by it...but if she hadn't said what she had to me, maybe I'd not have had the insight to see my prejudice.
Teenage, then 21, 42, 84...
The other night, my nearly 15-year-old nephew Zach was telling me how he and a friend from 7th grade, and another from 4th grade had found one another on Facebook, and how they met again after not having seen one another for years.
This morning, I checked e-mail on my Columbia University ID and saw a Facebook e-mail notice from a guy, who used to sit behind me in one of my freshman-year classes at Stamford High. It's a similar feeling, but just a big difference in the time lag.
At the Newark Airport on Friday, a young guy was wearing a Hebrew University, Jerusalem sweatshirt and I couldn't resist talking with him. As I've mentioned here before, I studied there for my junior year abroad in college.
Should I talk to him? Shouldn't I? It's so darn early -- around 6 am -- and I'm not yet feeling so sociable, but how many times do I see such a sweatshirt, other than on myself?
"Excuse me. Hi. Did you study there?"
"Yeah." He's not a morning-person, or I'm just not who he feels like talking to right now.
"When did you go?"
"Last year, for a semester."
"Neat! I was there for a year in '85-'86. I loved it!"
He smiled politely and I walked away as quickly and as gracefully as I could.
I was exactly twice his age, and I'm still thinking about what that experience in Israel meant to me. It has been brewing all these years....I wish I could meet someone from IBM, who's 84, and who spent six months in India for IBM at 42...though I don't think we were in the country then. In any case, no doubt, that person might understand what the experience meant with greater hindsight than mine.
Pat's mom will be 84 on Monday and so she's twice my age. I'm always trying to rush my insights and hindsight, I think. I'm envious at the bank of experiences that Pat's mom, and mine, can draw from. Mr. McWilliams, my favorite teacher from high school wrote in my year book, "Sarah, just stay young long enough to grow old."
Have I Ever Been Young?
What did he see? Probably, he saw a 17-year-old , who had lost her father that year and so who was much older than her peers as a result. I've been that way ever since, or maybe even prior to my dad dying.
My family was so much older than I, growing up; my parents were 40 when I was born and my sisters already five and a half and nine, so I had to be precocious if I wanted to keep up, e.g., with vocabulary acquisition....And now, with my partner, being 15 years older than I, I find myself wondering when menopause will begin to hit me when, really, I should have several more years, if not a decade or more left prior to "the change of life."
A friend of ours sent us a hilarious clip recently of a comedy routine by "Mrs. Hughes." She said, When a girl menstruates for the first time, they say, 'And now, you're becoming a woman.' When a woman goes through menopause, they don't tell you what you're becoming....[She rubs her chin and upper-lip, pauses, and says,] "I'm becoming my father."
When my friend Chitra was in the States and met my mom, she told me later, "It's as if you're the mother and she's the daughter. Your mom's so youthful!" Maybe that's why I loved Saffy on "AbFab."
What has my maturity bought me? It's not a fair question. Maturity simply became one of my traits, like having dark-brown hair and blue eyes.