Dreams are funny things. Most disappear from my memory in an instant, like flash paper kissed by a burning match, as soon as I open my eyes to the light of day. Others, for no particular reasons I can fathom, remain inked indelibly onto my long-term memory. I like to re-examine these dreams occasionally to see if time and life experience bring additional insights into their meanings. Once in a while I get lucky:
This is one of those dreams where I’m both a participant and an observer. It’s spring or summer. I see myself playing in the backyard of my boyhood New Jersey home with one of my brothers. I’m about eight years old; Bob is around two. Suddenly, it’s time for me to leave. I stand, and in an instant I’m walking by myself, way in the distance. Bob immediately notices that he’s alone and he begins to cry. Even though I’m miles away, I hear his distress. I turn, and in a moment I’m back with my brother. I take his hand in mine. Then, in another instant, we’re walking together, far, far away.
This is the oldest of my “inked-in” dreams, staying with me since I was eight years old. It’s always resonated with me in a very strong and visceral way. I could never put my finger on just what gives this dream its staying power. But looking back on it nearly forty-five years later, I think its imagery sheds some light on why I became a personal historian.
On a basic level, the narrative is about me leaving my brother behind, then realizing my mistake and taking him with me on my journey. But when I approach it a little more creatively, I see that the two figures can also represent generations of a family, one older and one younger. We often get separated – sometimes by distance, sometimes by time, many times by both. How can we bridge these gulfs and stay connected? In the dream my brother and I link hands. From my current perspective as a video biographer and personal historian I help generations create links by sharing stories.
Preserving, sharing and celebrating personal and family stories is the greatest way of fostering and maintaining connections between generations that I know. When you commit your story to video or audio or print, you’re reaching out to your family’s younger generations and generations yet to come. You’re saying, “Hi. We’re family and we’re connected. I’d like to introduce myself and pass my experiences, observations and insights along to you. This is my gift to you and I hope you enjoy and profit by what I have to say. And please, pass my life story and yours along to the next generations of our family.”
Speaking from my own experience, hearing stories about my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles made me appreciate them and feel connected to them as flesh-and-blood people, instead of flat and faded images in a photo album. And thanks to today’s video technology, I can help folks capture their stories as never before, creating legacy videos that will allow future generations to see and hear ancestors speaking directly to them.
Generations “holding hands” and staying connected through the power of story – that’s what this dream now means to me. And if dreams are signposts, I’d say this one had me pointed towards a career as a personal historian long ago.