I’m teaching writing on a Caribbean cruise off the coast of Mexico. (Tough gig, I know.) Yesterday I had an epiphany right in the middle of teaching a session on memoir writing. I told the participants that gathering information for their memoirs would show them things about themselves they didn’t know. “Memoirs teach you who you are.” And I told an anecdote about my late father, a shy man of few words.
He never talked about what he did as a naval officer in World War II, but I’d gathered bits and pieces over the years and put together my own picture of what he did. I knew he helped develop the airborne radar used in hunter-killer teams. One plane (the Hunter) used radar to find enemy submarines, and the other plane (the Killer) carried depth charges to drop on the sub. When he was dying, I cornered him in his hospital bed and interviewed him about what he really did. He couldn’t escape me, and for once in his life, talked at length. I assumed, since he was an electrical engineer, that he had helped develop the radar itself. Actually he figured out how to train flying officers to operate the radar and find the sub. Later he led a group of radar specialists, and flew missions himself. I confirmed all this later in his service records.
And just as I finished telling this anecdote, I had an epiphany. I had never seen the connection between what he was and did (an engineer) and what I became and did (a teacher-scholar). But as I told the story to my participants, it hit me. He created new knowledge, recast it so others could learn it, and taught it to smart people so they could act on it. Which is exactly what I’ve done my whole life, and what I’m am doing right now on this cruise, and what I’m doing in this blog post.
[Ever had an epiphany while telling a story?]