I remember distinctly the moment I heard the famous monologue from Hamlet that starts, "To be or not to be," and realizing that I understood it far differently than I had as a person of 16. Since then I've had "re-awakenings in life; a book read a second time, an old story almost forgotten re-heard with new ears.
The same can be said of stories from family, too. If time has passed my memory of the details of those stories may have morphed so to hear them again reminds me of the details, but assuredly my age and life experience have changed so that those stories open up to new meaning. I recall the first time I related to one of my mother's stories not from a daughter/mother perspective but as one woman seeing another with a broader understanding of her experience.
This is an overarching theme from the documentary Disturbing the Universe in which daughters Emily and Sarah Kunstler try to come to terms with the choices of their famous attorney father William Kunstler. The story unfolds with them relating Kunstler's early work as a Civil Rights attorney involved with representing activists, with particular highlights of The Chicago Seven, the Attica Rioters, and the American Indian Movement. In later life he becomes a father again in his second marriage at age 57, and primarily works as a criminal attorney. Throughout the documentary Emily and Sarah relate their experiences and feelings of his work defending "bad guys" and ultimately how they came to view his career in later years.
Just as our understanding of the stories of others can change, perhaps the most profound experience in reviewing our own stories is realizing that new meaning is still possible. Sharing that perspective could be the ultimate gift we give to those who come along.
photo from Encyclopedia of World Biography
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