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The value of personal history

A couple things happened this weekend that made me think about the value of personal history. The first was going with my daughter to watch a high school girls’ basketball game. The other was a television movie adaptation of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. What is the connection between the two?

At the basketball game, I cheered on the team and my daughter’s friends. In the back of my mind, there was the connection with my own experiences at Reseda when I watched my friends play basketball. My enjoyment of the game was enriched by the connection between generations.

In For One More Day though, the past haunts and wounds the protagonist, Charles Benetto. It was only when he was able to understand his past – especially the parts that there were hidden from him – that he was able to make peace with himself and rebuild the relationships he had harmed.

These experiences reinforced for me the value of personal history. It has nothing to do with living in the past or using the past as an excuse for hurting ourselves and others. We can use personal history to heal ourselves, to see where we made bad choices, and to learn from past mistakes to make our future better.

Personal history can also help us to help others. As I watch my daughter make her way through high school, I can see her encountering many of the same situations I ran into. Not only can I draw upon my experience at Reseda, but I see similarities between her experience and my mom’s experience at Fairfax. My daughter won’t have to feel like she’s going through high school alone. She has two generations of knowledge that she can draw upon.

My personal history also helps me in my relationship with my son. I am learning from the mistakes my dad made. I’m learning from my mom how to help him by getting involved and supporting him.

The ending of the TV movie had the lines, “Every family is a ghost story…Sometimes, the ghosts stay.” We can see our past as ghosts who can frighten or haunt us, or we can see it as a council, helping us understand where we have been so that we can make better choices about where to go.

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