It has been my experience that children love to hear stories about themselves from when they were babies. “I really did that?” or “I said that when I was 9 months old?” they say, with incredulity. They never seem to tire of asking. I’ve noticed that some unsolicited stories from elders are not greeted with the same gusto. This is not surprising. Youngsters want to define their own oral history. They need know that they contributed to the joy of the family. Perhaps they need reinforcement of events that happened before they had the power to remember, or to be retold a forgotten detail, or to gain some kind of validation.
Like many of you who are siblings of autistic and other severely handicapped individuals, I was not the focal point of my family dynamic. I know I was an important part of the family, but not the primary focus. Nevertheless, I always wanted to hear stories about Michael: what he was like when he was born; how he reacted to my younger brother and me; what my reaction was to him, and so on. I could tell that this was not one of my mother’s favorite subjects, but she knew it was important to me so she did her best to answer my questions.
As a younger person, I knew that my perceptions would change over time, so for a while I got in the habit of journaling. I wrote things down to help me think, to help myself figure things out, to get my bad feelings out; I admit that I wrote partly for posterity. It would give me an opportunity to see what kind of a person I was. Journaling would be my time machine. I could tell myself my own stories of when I was younger. This type of time machine requires temporal distance. For example, it wouldn’t be much of a journey to read what I read last week, except to revise it for better composition, construction or grammar.
In the analog world, life changes gradually. One does not notice the small differences over weeks and months, except in times of crisis and radical life changes. I have had the good fortune of being able to jump back 15-25 years to my own history, written by the person who I was, at that time.
Tomorrow I present a written snapshot of my brother and me from about 15 years ago. Although it may repeat some of what I have already written in this blog, the view from my “time machine” could be illuminating.