I’ve always, since I was a child, been interested in the relationship between the individual and the whole.  How do we calibrate our feelings on a larger scale?  I remember wondering how those “rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10” signs in a hospital worked.  How does my 7 compare to your 7?  As an aside, I can tell you on that particular issue it was Grace and Whit’s births that helped me locate my own personal 10. The questions ripple out, though: when I see the color green and call it “green,” how do I know that it’s the same color that you see when you notice that something is green?  Is there any reason, in fact, to assume that those are the same thing?

The bigger question that interests me, I think, is how my personal experience fits into or correlates with the larger experience of the world as a hole.  I’ve always hungered to understand how the absolutely singular experience I’m having on this planet relates to the universal.  I think we all do.

This is what is is at the core of good writing, after all: making a specific, particular story shine so brightly that it somehow accesses something larger than its own individual details. Part of the impulse here for me is to understand: how does my experience relate to yours.  And another part of it is to find meaning: is there something larger that I can glimpse by putting my own individual story next to yours, and next to yours, and next to yours?

What I do know is that at the end of the day, I can never know if your headache is the kind of pain that would send me to the h9spital.  I can never know if the cornflower blue sky that you remark on looks the same to me.  I can never know what your love, and your loss, and your joy, and your sorrow feel like.

I’ll always wish I could find out.


5 thoughts on “Relative”

  1. I will always be in awe of that fact that despite your busy life and your job, you can pause long enough to ask these question.

  2. When I write I often share the stories of other people. Doing this helps me understand. I am always trying to make sense in a chaotic world; to make sense of my own life, my generation, my neighbors, my fellow Americans. Lately, this has become more important than ever.

    I found a quote recently that described for me what writing is all about:

    “You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others,” Elizabeth Alexander, Poet

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