Memorial Day, a time to appreciate veterans, serves also as a calendar marker that sort of gives us official permission to begin celebrating outdoors with cookouts, backyard barbecues and parties of all sorts, occasions where we sit around tables like the one above, catching up on family and friends. On a recent walk into two national-chain hardware stores, it became obvious to me how serious we are about getting together outdoors by the amount of entryway floorspace given over to a multitude of propane grills and smokers, patio furniture, pergola canopies, fireplaces, lawn mowers, beverage carts and bars including accessories for all of the above.
It’s my preference to celebrate my birthday each year with a family cookout at my daughter’s house. I appreciate that we Americans have the luxury, not only of the food and equipment, but also the freedom to come together in such a casual manner. For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t happen in many parts of the world.
At a recent family gathering someone asked how my parents met. I didn’t know. They’d talked about it, but I couldn’t remember the situation or the location. And there was no one left whom I could ask. It got me thinking about memory and the structure of our social gatherings. For one thing, I don’t think I ever met anyone who said “I love cocktail parties.” The structure itself is uncomfortable. Standing around with a drink in hand exchanging work-talk, gossip or trivia puts these gatherings in the category of necessary rather than desirable for many of us. While interesting or exciting conversations can occur at cocktail parties, more often the volume of multiple conversations trying to compete with loud music in a space with hard walls acts as a deterrent. Except for up-scale restaurants, dining out can present the same challenge to conversation. Also at parties, there’s a strong tendency to only talk to the people we know. Not so at sit-down, outdoor venues because everyone can be heard.
Even in these situations we tend to exchange current and surface information about what’s going on in people’s lives. Rarely do we share the more substantive information that deepens our appreciation and understanding of those participating. For instance, I delight when I learn something new, interesting or remarkable about family members, neighbors and friends I’d known for a long time. We think we know the people closest to us, but it can be surprising how much we don’t know.
Recently I learned that a dear friend and colleague of twenty years had passed away. Wanting to use his background as a model for one of the characters in the story I’m writing, I realized that the only thing I knew about his past was the university he attended. I knew his lifestyle and philosophy of life, but I didn’t know the experiences that shaped them. It helped me realize that this was the case with many of the people who, on occasion, sat across the table from me. It’s understandable, of course. The opportunity to share personal historical information rarely presents itself. Strangers get to see our resumes and curriculum vitas. Why not at least talk about the information they contain in gatherings of family and friends? The answer is that it would seem immodest. But in an appropriate context, such as backyard get togethers, the sharing of stories about a person’s family, education, employment, travels, significant others, awards and formative events can promote understanding and deepen appreciation, perhaps even provide life lessons for those who listen. To avoid the “Do you want to talk about me or should I?” conundrum, the host or someone else can suggest that, “Going around the table, lets have everyone tell their life story—one person at a time. Questions are fine, but no going off on tangents or someone else’s story.”
Whatever the context, the sharing of personal histories within the family is especially important for young people. It helps to shape their identity, ties them to the past and provides lessons for the future. Besides, in my experience, it stimulates a lot of fascination and laughter. When those we care about are gone, we won’t wish we knew more about them.
Telling our personal story constitutes an act of consciousness that defines the ethical lining of a person’s constitution. Recounting personal stories promotes personal growth, spurs the performance of selfless deeds, and in doing so enhances the ability of the equitable eye of humanity to scroll rearward and forward. Every person must become familiar with our communal history of struggle, loss, redemption, and meaningfully contemplate the meaning behind our personal existence in order to draft a proper and prosperous future for succeeding generations. Accordingly, every person is responsible for sharing their story using the language of thought that best expresses their sanguine reminiscences. Without a record of pastimes, we will never know what we were, what we now are, or what we might become by steadfastly and honorably struggling with mortal chores.
Kilroy J. Oldster (Author, Dead Toad Scrolls)
ABOUT THIS IMAGE
Title: Patio Table & Chairs
I was visiting friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was their patio furniture. What moved me to photograph it was seeing the sun reflected in the glass. It’s like the people who sat there got up and the illumination they shared remained.
(I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L Smith Photography)