“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Woolf wrote extensively about Moments of Being, the daily miracles of life. A moment of clarity achieved by multiple match strikes in a dark room. But a match only illuminates a small section of the dark. To see more, we need to light more matches. Eventually, match by match, the whole room is revealed.
Those are your moments. And as they link together, they will make up your memoir.
These moments of being that come to us with startling clarity and detail, are often not important at first. Why did we remember that particular Halloween? Why did we forget the details of our prom, yet can recall, with spooky clarity, that camp out? Because as unimportant as they may seem, our remembered moments are revealing, and often we don’t understand how revealing until we being writing about them.
Consider one of your clear even cherished memories? Why do you remember it at all? What is telling about that memory? Why is it lodged so deeply in your brain, in your sense of smell, in your mental catalogue of evocative sounds?
One reason we remember these moments is because they came before. If you reflect back on big events of your life, you can often remember the day, the hour, the moment before just as clearly. So it becomes a two part memory. What you were doing before the divorce, the death, the accident. You can recall those moments just before everything changed.
In all deference to Woolf, sometimes recalling calm, unimportant moments are exactly what we need to do in order to launch the bigger life changing moments. The average can set the stage for the remarkable.
I remember the sun and warmth of the flagstones in my back yard as I hopped from stone to stone. It was a January morning, we were enjoying unseasonable warmth, my brother trapped in Buffalo New York, was under five feet of snow. He was trapped in so many other ways I did not understand at the time. Had I known. . . . That’s how it can work for the start of a memoir. A moment, the idea that “we didn’t realize,” “we didn’t know.”
We all experience the consciousness of the day when a fleeting though occurs to us: is this the last average day? Was this moment, this afternoon something I should have cherished? Am I actually an extra in Our Town? We don’t know, it would probably make us mad if we did.
The advantage of describing that average moment is that it can expand to include details, a historical reference, the setting, the family dynamics at the time. That moment you remember so clearly can serve as the set up for the description of the following BIG event. This allowed the event to speak for itself, you aren’t required to deliver back story into the action or veer away from the drama to explain the time of year, or what kind of wagon your brother was riding when he pitched off the cliff.
The average moment of being has a strong place in your memoir, not the least of which that it belongs to you. It’s your moment, you memory.
That alone makes it precious and worth recording. But be assured, there are probably more.