Excerpt: Moments versus the Momentous

Moments versus the Momentous


Many of us have been children of relative peace, wealth, health, and happiness—not to mention relative obscurity. Our lives seem a bit short on momentous occasions, or at least what the rest of the world sees as momentous. Those who coach memoir writers disagree, insisting that every life is noteworthy, or worthy of the written word.

If that’s true of a memoir, think how much more this wisdom applies to a Treasure Chest. Writing about your memories and writing a memoir are not the same. Memoirists write cohesive narratives about a part of their life or life journey. Bestselling memoirs are usually about life situations that are far from ordinary. A Treasure Chest, however, is not a memoir, at least not for most of us. We don’t have to compose a chronicle of our life to give others insight into our makeup.

Though it can be autobiographical in nature, the writings a Treasure Chest contains do not necessarily integrate into one organized, comprehensive story. A Treasure Chest is not even necessarily in chronological order. Instead, it is a collection of memories and reflections that we believe are worthy of perpetuation. Obviously, experiences that shaped you and stand out in your memory warrant inclusion.

However, because each of our memories and experiences, regardless of how momentous they may be, have had some impact on the person we have become, less earthshaking events also belong in your collection. Memories, whether pivotal experiences or small moments we treasure, reflect our lives, the lessons we’ve learned, and the paths we’ve chosen. In many lives, everyday events are just as likely to serve as epiphanies and turning points as milestone events are. By writing about both the commonplace and life-changing events, we are leading our readers to the legacy we’ve decided to reveal.

The import of the pieces of memory we preserve and how clearly they mark our personal development will vary greatly. Most of us will have only a few memories that will mark the path of our life’s journey like a towering rock cairn. Many memories we write about might be more analogous to breadcrumbs—though they do not demarcate the overall journey as clearly, these crumbs give readers invaluable insight into our personality and character.

Memories mark our paths in different ways. Some memories are subtle, like broken twigs left on a trail, while others practically serve as signposts. Of what are those breadcrumbs, twigs, rock cairns, and signposts constructed? Of what are our memories made?

They’re made of moments.

As time has continued its indefatigable march forward, some moments during the years have stood out more vividly than the rest. Even if our lives are short on momentous occasions, they are full of moments that were momentous to us. Every now and then, they’re moments in the midst of the momentous. For instance, people in my parents’ generation inevitably remember what they were doing when they learned of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In my generation, we all know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first learned of the September 11,2001, attacks. The thing most deeply embedded in our memory isn’t the general context of the historical event—it is of the moment of our realization.

Even less-historical moments are equally entrenched in our memory simply because they were consequential to us personally. These are precisely the moments that mark our journeys. For instance, I always knew, intellectually, that I would love my children, but I was unprepared for the overwhelming rush of love and devotion I felt in the moment that I first laid eyes on my son. In fact, I can remember that moment as if it were yesterday. That moment of love at first sight indelibly marked my entry into motherhood.

Frequently, our most cherished memories are moments in the midst of the mundane—the poignancies of the everyday. They might include a warm evening with a soft breeze in a beautiful setting with good friends, or your first sight of the Grand Canyon or the Chicago skyline. They might simply be a moment of happiness or heartbreak. They might include catching the look of pride in your father’s eye. Such moments matter.

As you brainstorm and choose topics on which to reflect, be aware of the moments. Collected together, moments will be quite a treasure. Indeed, you can never be sure what will be most highly valued by those who receive your legacy of memories. One reader’s trinket might be another’s crown jewel.


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