What if someone were to curate a museum exhibit of your life? What objects would you want included? What would they say about who you are and what matters to you? How would the accompanying plaque interpret the exhibit?
Here are some vignettes I picture as part of my “One Life” exhibit:
A seed picture, a macramé wall hanging, and a handwoven basket depicting a childhood of craft-learning at my grandmother’s feet which morphed into my would-be-hippie-street-fair-vendor period and morphed again into a more nuanced appreciation of handiwork and an unending need to work with my hands;
A shelf filled with books by the likes of Annie Dillard, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, Robert Fulghum and more, some of which prompted me to read more while others influenced who I became and still others led me to become a writer myself;
A table holding a pencil, eraser, and notebook symbolizing my love of writing, an urge that visited me randomly and infrequently until recently, when it became a near obsession;
A collection of LPs and CDs: classical—Mozart, Chopin, Mussorgsky, Beethoven (there was a time when I fantasized about becoming a concert pianist. That time was sandwiched between my Debbie Reynolds period and delusions of being a race car driver); folk—philosophical storysingers the likes of the Kingston Trio, Christine Lavin, John McCutcheon, and Carrie Newcomer who prick our consciences and prod us to action with thought-provoking messages, sometimes with some quirky humor thrown in; the Gaelic melodies of Enya and kin which, through their sheer ethereal beauty, transport my mind to the shores of my heritage;
A hammer, a saw, and a scattering of nails on a 2 x 4 piece of lumber portraying our once-in-a-lifetime homebuilding adventure;
A grouping of family heirlooms—perhaps a chair, a plate, a crocheted doily: items that tell the story of my attachment to family and family history;
A tent, a canoe, and a campfire all in the midst of a small square of outdoor space, testaments to my love of camping, water, and nature;
A collection of photo albums—more proof of my strong sense of family as well as my love of photography, nature, and wildlife;
A corner filled with bumper stickers, protest posters, sit-in images, and a couple of rabble-rousing speeches representing my passion for human rights, all sorts, and my years as an activist and leader in social change movements;
A few fruit- and vegetable-filled canning jars next to some colorful seed packets resting atop a small mound of well-composted garden soil—evidence of my gardening and food preservation heritage and interest.
All of this would, of course, be displayed against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains while the sounds of bird songs and a waterfall are piped into the exhibit space.
Looked at as a whole, such an exhibit speaks to me of eclecticism (or perhaps the inability to settle on any one thing). I like to think it also speaks of an enthusiasm for life, a certain joie de vivre. But I see what isn’t there, too—in some cases, things I wish I’d had a chance to experience or was passionate about, but in truth am not; in others, things that once mattered and have been cast aside. I see the absence of objects that are critically important to other people but don’t matter a whit to me.
(Conspicuously absent is anything about my family—other than the references to the photo album and family heirloom exhibits. Make no mistake: they are, every single one of them, central to my life. But with this kind of exercise, it’s all too tempting to focus on other people and to turn the whole thing into a cliché, so I resist the urge.)
Chances are, there are also things that have simply skipped my mind in the moment. If I were to write this piece next week or next year, an entirely different collection of objects might appear.
I wonder what my exhibit would say to the casual observer? What about yours?