On thinking about writing a memoir

A few months ago, my friend Chuck Fager invited me to contribute a chapter to an anthology he was preparing under the title Passing the Torch: When Quaker Lives Speak. Chuck suffered some bad medical things in recent weeks but he persisted with the project and ten days ago the volume went up for sale on Amazon. I ordered a copy immediately; and last week on First-day (Sunday) I got so engrossed in reading everyone else’s contributions there that I was seriously late for Meeting for Worship…

The people whom Chuck had chosen to contribute are an intriguing and disparate bunch. The only other one who works primarily on international (or at least, not domestic-American) issues is David Zarembka, who lives in Kenya and whose work I greatly admire. But the others are fascinating people, too. Next Seventh-day (Saturday), I’ll get to meet many of them. Chuck and Carter Nash, who also contributed to the book, are organizing a launch party near Philadelphia.

This has to be the only book-launch party in history that is three hours long and will involve– in addition to some readings– food, music, and a singsong prominently featuring Tom Lehrer. What’s not to love?

When Chuck asked me to contribute, I said yes, for two reasons. First, I really like the guy and think that despite (or probably, because of) the prickly relationship he has often had with some of the big Quaker institutions he has really helped many Quakers (myself included) to see our paths in life more clearly and to feel supported in pursuing them. Second, I was at a stage where I was going through a number of big life transitions and therefore ready and eager to do some of the kind of reflection on my life and work so far that, I knew, writing any kind of serious autobiographical material would involve.

I organized my essay around  four themes:

  • Israel/Palestine
  • War and peace
  • Empires, human rights, civilization
  • God and such.

I had number of other themes that I considered writing about, but never had the time to do so. That’s fine. For me, this was, really, a warm-up exercise preparatory to writing a much fuller and deeper memoir at some point in the future. Chuck assured me I could reuse this material in any way, whenever I want– and I may well fashion some portions of it into blog-posts at some point soon… But for now, I really want to help Chuck  sell as many copies of his book as he can.

My experience, ever since I was 16 years old, has been that writing things down is a really useful tool that helps me explore, clarify, and extend my thinking in some very important ways; and writing this chapter for Chuck’s book was no exception.

I’m at a point when I’ve been an adult for roughly 50 years, and I’m hopeful I might have another 30 years of useful life left. What will the world be like in 2050?? By then, my grandchildren will range in age from 32 to 41. Yes, we need to think urgently what kind of a world we are building for them and their entire global cohort.

But thinking back on the past 50 years of my life has also been useful…

You can read a  short excerpt from my chapter in Chuck’s book, in this blog post that he published Thursday. He admitted to me that he’d used some of the most eye-catching portions of my chapter there. “When it bleeds, it leads,” as they say.

Anyway, rush on out and buy the whole book, especially if you want to enjoy that whole panoply of remembrances that Chuck compiled there– including, some of his own.