The beauty of memoir is that it offers insight and understanding by the sharing of personal experiences. A memoir can be filled with hope and inspiration, guiding the reader along a path which often overcomes adversity. It transcends time, race, education, socioeconomic status, religion and regional location. A memoir can include personal battles that lead to enlightenment, and the discovery of untapped inner strength leading to triumph. A memoir can help and support others through whatever adversity they are facing. Many are stories of ordinary people discovering extraordinary strength.
Anne Frank’s, The Diary of a Young Girl was the first memoir I experienced. I read the book at an early age and it has stayed with me my entire life. During unimaginable horror and dehumanizing circumstances, Anne remained brave, insightful and a model of hope and appreciation. Anne was only fourteen, hidden from the world, and certainly knowing what her future would hold. Still, she was able to offer profound reflections that have remained inspiring throughout the passing decades. “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
More recently, the following memoirs have had an impact on my perspective.
In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg faces the devastation of the unexpected death of her husband while she has two young children to parent. We all seem to have a picture of what our life is, what it will become, and how it will unfold – our “Option A”. However, rarely does life follow our plan. As Sandberg learned, we must embrace an “Option B” and continue forward. We must discover our new normal and nurture the resiliency that lies within.
In The Choice, Dr. Edith Eva Eger shares her personal story of survival. A dancer and gymnast, she found herself in Auschwitz at the age of 16. Eger miraculously survived the unimaginable suffering and abuse of concentration camps and war. After, she struggled with her past experiences until she could make sense of her ordeal and share her insight with readers. “We must make the choice to heal. Just because we have been victimized, we do not have to remain victims.”
Tara Westover, author of Educated, lived through brutal neglect, as well as verbal, and physical abuse. Her parents were survivalists who distrusted all government and its agencies. Westover was never sent to school and never went to a doctor. Her mother could not recall Tara’s birthdate. Tara randomly selected a birthday each year to mark the passage of time. Fiercely loyal to her family – which was all that she knew – Tara struggled with intolerable living situations. Westover doubted herself and her sanity throughout her life. Finally, still trying to make sense of her world, she realizes her potential, and grapples with her circumstances through the educational system.
Becoming by former First Lady Michelle Obama describes how she “grew up to the sound of striving.” As a young black woman living on the southside of Chicago, Obama had to rise above skin color, gender, and financial constraints. She realized early that “failure is a feeling long before it is a fact.” With the support of her devoted parents she was encouraged to follow her dreams and rise above her situation and prejudices of others. Yet, with all her success, she is still a woman struggling with the same questions of all women. How to find balance in a chaotic life, remain focused on one’s goals, and not lose sight of oneself.
I am an author of memoir. I wholeheartedly embrace the message of all these books. All confirm that life is not easy. They remind us challenges will confront us throughout. There will be difficult situations and difficult people to wear us down. Sometimes brutal things are done to us. However, we do not have to allow ourselves to be broken by such experiences. We have the choice to rise above difficult circumstances. We can embrace the words of Jennifer Pate Gilbert knowing that “You can’t control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control who you want to be after it happens.”