My friend Mayka announced to a group of us that when she died she wanted the following words on her tombstone: “She cared”.
Of course we joked with her – she isn’t young but still she will probably live for many years yet. And anyway, who has a tombstone these days?
But Mayka had managed to do what few of us can do – she had summed up the theme of her life. Yes, Mayka cares. She has always tried to care about other people and she likely always will.
This carries with it pluses and minuses. Seldom do other people care as much as she does so she is often disappointed in the small amount of care that comes back to her. Sometimes she expects people to care and, having busy lives, they don’t live up to her expectations.
Sometimes she is rewarded far beyond anything she might expect and she feels that the world is unfolding as it should.
The point is: Mayka has seen the pattern in her life. Can you see the pattern in your life? It’s not easy. We are complex creatures with many facets to our life: family, friends, education, goals, job, hobby, volunteering, spiritual life, health. Who can see a pattern in all of that?
If you are setting out to write your memoir your pattern is important. I suggest that potential memoir writers get large size file cards and write one memory on each card, writing fairly quickly to get the idea down. This avoids the ‘staring at a blank page in a new binder’ paralysis. Once they have a collection of 20-30 file cards they look them over and start trying to find some order amongst them. It might be chronological, that’s fine.
Better yet is a reading and re-reading to find the patterns in your life. As you read back and forth does it occur to you that many of your stories start with you doing something on an impulse? Maybe you married that unsuitable boy in your teen years, spoke hurtfully to your grandmother, left home to live in another country. Or perhaps your pattern is making safe decisions, or standing up for the underdog.
Maybe you see more than one pattern – that’s fine too. You can sit down and order those file cards according to your life themes. You can see how you have grown and developed the themes of your life. Maybe you have learned to overcome some pattern that was not working well for you. Maybe you have learned to use a character trait to enrich your life and the lives of those around you.
Rewrite your file card stories to reflect your theme and show the color and texture of your life. For you it shows your growth and a peek at the meaning of your life. It gives the reader a thread to follow and a deeper understanding of you. Maybe someone can learn from it.
At the very least you’ll know what you want carved on your tombstone.