In the book, One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a diverse group of people is trapped in a “life-or-death” situation. Folks are having trouble staying calm and getting along, so one of the characters suggests that each tell a story from their lives — one amazing thing. This would draw the group together as well has help pass the time until help could arrive.
I think this idea is quite, well, neato. But at the same time, I come up blank. How would I respond? What could I possibly take from my life that others might consider amazing? Which personal event would I want to reveal to the world? To what depth would I explore?
The characters in the book ask these same questions, but I think it was a freeing moment for them when they began to truly listen to each other and eventually risked telling their own stories.
Lately, on Twitter, I’ve seen tweets from folks talking about this person or that person who has died who was important to him or her in some way — either in general, as a writer or a role model, or personally, as a mentor or something deeper. Some folks pause to write their own memorials; others pass on memorials written by others.
I wonder, do we tell these people how much they matter to us, if it is physically possible, when they are alive? Do we help them to share the amazing stories of their lives, and do we share our amazing stories with them?
Or, are we insular? Do we admire from afar or just think, “Well, that person knows how I feel”; or “She knows she’s made a great impact on the lives of others; I don’t need to tell her that”; or “Who am I to say such a thing to another person — he or she will just think I’m a stalker-fan or something”?
Do we hide ourselves, our life experiences, from others because we are afraid — not of embarrassment or of being vulnerable, but of something much more tangible: clear repercussions in our personal and professional lives for revealing that we are more than what we appear to be? That like an origami crane, we have hidden folds and jagged angles that shape us?
A recent Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism post featured an article in which the author discussed “coming out” as having Asperger’s Syndrome. She writes, “I am out as having Asperger’s. I have disclosed that information here. But there is a big difference between writing about being autistic online and actually saying the words out loud to people in real life and accepting the judgments, stigma, and assumptions that might follow.”
I think that even in the blogging world, however, such a self-revelation could set oneself up not only for positive responses, but as she says, “judgments, stigma, and assumptions.”
I choose Asperger’s as an example because someone to whom I am very close is an Aspie. I don’t reveal who that is to many people because that is not my right; that is his. Also, “real life” exists even in the cyber world and people can hurt each other whether that is their intention or just a by-product of the Web-i-verse.
It seems like I have gone down a separate path from where I started this post — that of considering the idea of telling one amazing thing about my life, and encouraging others do so as well, if not about their own lives, then about someone whom they admire. But this struggle with how much to reveal about oneself, about MYself, truly strikes to the heart of the question.
It’s one thing to tell a small group of strangers whom you think you may never see again, that is, if you happen to survive the circumstances you have found yourselves in, something deeply personal, something truly touching, amazing. Something real and true and, well, ALIVE, living, vivid — an aspect of ourselves, an adventure in being human, that marks and shapes and carries us along life’s course.
It’s another to put it out for all to see and then to step back and hope that what you have written is interpreted the way you want, accepted the way you wish, understood as well as you can understand it yourself.
Am I ready for that?
I think of writers who have come before, who tell the world their stories, and who have made us better in the telling. Briefly, off the top of my head as I write this, I think of Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), Temple Grandin (Thinking in Pictures), Luis Carlos Montalván (Until Tuesday), Sidney Poitier (The Measure of A Man), and Antwone Fisher (Finding Fish).
Am I able to do that? Do I need to do that — to “go big or go home”? That is the question, isn’t it? Is our “one amazing thing” good enough not just to share with others but also to satisfy ourselves?
It’s late. I’m going to put this question to bed for now. I’m hoping I can dream up a good answer and tack it onto this post (or as a separate piece) in the morning.
Addendum: Above I make reference to five individuals who have shared their lives with us on a large scale. On a smaller scale, I think of (and please forgive me if I miss someone) Steve Silberman, Lynne Soraya (who writes under a pseudonym so might not quite fit under the premise of this post), and David Kroll (I think specifically about his writings about his father).
I still don’t have the answer to my questions posted last night, but I’m working on it.