History is not just what we read in books. It is in our lives.
Have you ever stopped to consider who might be interested in the stories we have to tell? Perhaps our children or family, but increasingly historians are seeking to preserve accounts of times gone by. In 2000, the Library of Congress began collecting war stories through the Veterans History Project. Already, tens of thousands of submissions have been made.
You don’t have to be a veteran, however, to have interesting stories to tell from your life. Consider trying the following exercise. Take a large piece of paper and draw a line from left to right. Write the year of your birth at the left end of the line and add a mark on the line for every ten years of your life and label it with the year. Continue the line beyond your current age. This is your life line. Above the line, jot down your earliest memories—the first birthday you remember, the first day of school, your childhood home, your first kiss, etc. Keep going with other significant memories in your life—your first job, a long trip you took, your wedding day, the birth of children, the death of a friend. Try to put the events in the decade of your life in which they occurred.
Next, below the line note significant events that were going on in the world and put them roughly where they fall in the chronology you have laid out. You might include wars, economic fluctuations, social movements, technological changes, population shifts, popular trends, or influential leaders.
Fill in the portion of the line to the right of your current age with what you believe life holds for you in those coming decades. Include your hopes and dreams, your wishes and desires, perhaps some regrets, and how you want to be remembered.
Now, sit with someone and “talk the walk.” Take them through your life line from left to right, talking about what was going on in your life and in the world during each decade. If possible, have someone videotape the discussion as you go through your life. You can make it as detailed or summarized as you like, but be sure to tell some of the stories that fill up your page. And don’t forget to comment on your future…
Zane Robertson is the President of Active Minds®, a Denver-based provider of educational programs for seniors. He is a frequent speaker on lifelong learning and senior education and served on the Denver Commission on Aging and the board of the Denver Coalition for Seniors. Active Minds programs are available in many of Denver’s finest senior residential communities as well as a variety of public venues. For more information, contact Mr. Robertson at 303‑320‑7652 or visit www.activeminds.com.