When Memories Are Shared

23
Nov
2016
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The cousins in our earlier years.

By Jennifer Chauhan

I love Thanksgiving. It’s always been my favorite holiday. I remember as a kid being so excited to go to my Aunt Carol and Uncle Joe’s house, an hour’s drive away on the North Shore of Long Island. My mom was the second oldest of seven siblings, so I had a posse of cousins whom I loved hanging out with. I remember the warm “I’ve missed you” hugs, our Schumm family signature cheese muffins, and ping pong tournaments in the basement.

But what I remember most are the spirited conversations at the big oval table in the dining room. Of course, we kids would be at the designated “under 18” table in the kitchen, but shortly after nibbles of apple pie, we would sneak in to listen to our parents reminiscing and laughing before the conversation turned to politics and arguing (mostly friendly) ensued. And then at some point in the conversation, a grown-up fell asleep (a Schumm family curse).

My childhood memories have been triggered a lot in recent weeks, as Project Write Now has made surprise visits all throughout the community to encourage people to jot down favorite memories on sticky notes that we will display at our first big fundraising event on November 29. The theme of the evening is “A Night to Remember,” and we have everyone–chefs, photographers, musicians, poets, students–sharing stories generated by memories.

When we ask people to share a memory, so many jump back to their childhood. I love the moment when they stop and look off, not sure what to write, but then quickly scribble their pens across the pads, smiles emerging at what has been discovered. “Baking blueberry pie with my grandmother,” “playing water polo for hours in the pool,” “being home for dinner by 6 p.m. OR ELSE,” “my first kiss.” So many of these memories make me think, “me too.”

I’ve been surprised and touched by how eager people are to delve into the story behind their memory, sharing intimate details with me, a complete stranger. We move quickly past the “small talk” and right to the “real talk.” I remember one woman who sat sipping wine at a happy hour event. She quietly wrote, “I remember the last conversation I had with my aunt before she died.” As she passed me her note, she touched my arm, “Thank you for reminding me of that memory.” She had tears in her eyes.

There was a woman who wrote, “I remember getting lost on a mountain in Vermont for 18 hours before I found my way home.” Then she casually mentioned she was 11 years old at that time! Stunned, we asked her question after question, “Were you scared?” “How did you survive?” “How were you found?” As she relayed the details of her night alone, I think even she became surprised at her bravery during such a terrifying ordeal.

It’s these moments, these authentic conversations, that have inspired us to create this event. Through our work, we’ve witnessed how simply sharing a story can create a greater understanding and appreciation of one another. How it can form meaningful connections that deepen our empathy. And now, more than ever, we need to be reminded of what connects us. We need to rediscover those shared experiences of family, love, friendship, heartache, joy. Of what is real.

For me, I’ve loved hearing the stories and traveling back spontaneously in a moment, a flash of memory coming to me that I haven’t thought of in years. I feel privileged to bear witness to these stories, just as I felt all those years as a kid listening in on the grown-ups’ conversations.

I’m excited to see it all come together this Tuesday at the Two River Theater, and I’m grateful for all who have shared their stories so far and all who will share that evening.

I hope you will join me.

Jennifer Chauhan is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Project Write Now.