how do we make our hard stories matter to others?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

As I prepare to teach memoir again at Penn, I think about the hardest lesson of all—how we make the thing that has happened to us matter to others. The details alone—their accumulation—are but a record, a report. They will not tremble the hearts of perfect and imperfect strangers until they, as Saint-Exupery says here, are reconceived as transcendent matter.

Every week men sit comfortably at the cinema and look on at the bombardment of some Shanghai or other, some Guernica, and marvel without a trace of horror at the long fringes of ash and soot that twist their slow way into the sky from those man-made volcanoes. Yet we all know that together with the grain in the granaries, with the heritage of generations of men, with the treasures of families, it is the burning flesh of children and their elders that, dissipated in smoke, is slowly fertilizing those black cumuli.

The physical drama itself cannot touch us until some one points out its spiritual sense.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars


Victoria Marie Lees said...

Oh, what I'd give to be in your memoir class at the University of Pennsylvania, Beth. Thanks for sharing this. ~Victoria Marie Lees

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