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© Tom  Gilbert

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MemoryWell Helping Sufferers of Alzheimer's Preserve Their Stories

September 18, 2017

Here's some good news and a worthy effort to help those afflicted with Alzheimer's. A startup company, MemoryWell, is using the power of storytelling to improve their longterm care. A news story on gives you insight into this and you can also visit the MemoryWell site to learn more about how they are "preserving care one story at a time."

Remembering Grandparents and 9-11

September 11, 2017

Today is another anniversary of 9-11, the terrible day of terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Rightly so, we should never forget and always honor the memories of those who died that day. So many heartbreaks, but also so many heroes.

Yesterday was the annual Grandparents Day holiday. I find myself reflecting on both grandparents and 9-11. There are some commonalities. For instance, we want to always remember and honor the memories of the victims of 9-11. So, too, do we honor and treasure the memories of our grandparents. Mine have all passed on and a few years ago I became a grandparent. It is truly one of the greatest things in my life. As the saying goes, "If I knew grandchildren would be so wonderful I would have had them first!"

I vividly remember that fateful day in September, 2001. I can recall the raw emotions, the fear, concern, worry and anger. I did not yet have any grandchildren, in fact, my children were still living at home and just 8 and 13.

Today I taught my fifth graders some history about 9-11. We also paid tribute to our grandparents as part of a school-wide Grandparents Day celebration. I am sure it fed my ideas for this post.

Amidst heartbreak and tragedy there is often the silver lining. So it was with 9-11. No one can completely erase the loss of a loved one, and erasing it is not even the point. Remembering and memoralizing those who've died is the point. How do you do that? There are various ways, through pictures, writing, and sharing their lives.

Grandparents are often able to pass on the wisdom and family history we need to honor and remember. 

I've seen many a good memoir or family history that speaks about a person's grandparents. I have also seen my share of 9-11 tributes. Let's keep the memories in our hearts and together work to forge a world where there is peace through multiple generations.

The Five W's of Work

September 5, 2017

The Labor Day holiday was yesterday. I find myself reflecting on work - the who, what, where, when and why of it.

Most of us work. We labor at a job and we hope our paycheck will cover our expenses.

But I've found that it really is important to work to live, rather than the other way around - live to work. If you are not sure what that means, I am repeating some age old wisdom that we need to have a full and meaningful life and if we have to work, hopefully whatever we do contributes to that life. You don't want to work in a dead-end job that you hate and that doesn't fulfill you. Even if it fills your bank account.

With that in mind, let's consider what meaningful work entails. I like using the 5 W's as a guide. 

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Helpers of Hurricane Harvey

August 28, 2017

Natural disasters like the massive storm, Hurricane Harvey, hitting Texas are bigger than life events. The storms of life can be tough to weather; living through a disaster like this can change one's life.

The amount of flooding in Houston and other surrounding areas has been catastrophic. I can't begin to imagine what it is like to get over three feet of rain in just a couple of days. And the rains and flooding are not done.

What are the lessons to learn from such events? Being prepared is one of them. We don't always know when disasters will strike. It is wise to put together a "Go" bag on the most important valuables, records and supplies. It's a topic I've seen discussed among personal historians and it is a good suggestion. What documents, pictures and personal belongings could you not live without? Have a strongbox, luggage or some type of sturdy container for these most important items.

Your greatest treasure is your life and the lives of loved ones. Prioritize by having a plan to keep your family together and safe if at all possible. After that you have to become selective. Certain documents like birth certificates, wedding licenses and passports are critical. But what about your personal will, old family photos are other items that cannot be replaced. I would also include any memoirs or family histories.

You can't save everything, but you can do some preparation.

Thoughts and prayers to all going through the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. It's a tough situation. Despite the troubles it is wonderful to see the many heroes, be they first responders or everyday common folks, stepping up to help in need. The great story of humanity is how many will help no matter how bad things get. You can read about some of those accounts with this New York Times article, Moments of Hope and Inspiration Rise Above the Chaos of Harvey.

The Day the Sun Goes Dark

August 21, 2017

great solar eclipse august 21 2017Today is the , so labeled here in America to note a solar eclipse which will pass through the middle of the United States. Solar eclipses are awe-inspiring events when the moon comes between the earth and the sun and when the alignment is just right blocks the sunlight. The sun goes dark and for a few minutes day becomes night.

It can be confusing for animals. It struck terror in early civilizations who didn't know what was happening and feared the world was coming to an end.

Today is an opportunity for great studying of the event and a learning experience for young people. My fifth graders and I will be engaged in observing the event online. In New Mexico we get a little over seventy percent of the sun covered, a partial eclipse, and the forecast is calling for cloud cover, so better to check out a webcast. But north of us and across a 70 mile wide path from Oregon to South Carolina there will be totality. It is going to be amazing.

It is very important to be safe in viewing during the solar eclipse as eye damage happens without the proper protection. Many vendors sold eclipse glasses and not all of them were up to the correct standards. That's unfortunate, but with our technology it is possible to use the Internet and sites that are providing webcast viewing to safely see what takes place.

Many people want to be outside in an area of totality to experience this event. Some people travel the world for solar eclipses and claim it is akin to a spiritual experience.

How will you record your thoughts and observations today? Big events like the Great Eclipse of 2017 are touchstones for life stories. People are excited, media hype is off the scale, and you are going to have thoughts and emotions about this. I plan to do some writing in my journal and perhaps it will make it in to a recollection, essay or memoir sometime down the road.

Your Kind or You're Kind

August 16, 2017

It is disturbing to see the continued ugly expressions of racism in the United States. The weekend protests against the removal of a Confederate statue honoring Robert E. Lee by emboldened neo-Nazis and white supremacists shows that our people and country are still very divided. Violence, a woman killed, others injured, counter protests and a president who seems to be unwilling to clearly and convincingly condemn the worst of those protesting has a lot of people complaining.

Regardless of whether there is blame on "both sides", any group who is calling for hate is wrong. So when we look at protesters, are they expressing hate or standing up against injustice and racist behavior?

What I see is some people want to be separatists and proclaim themselves racially superior (your kind) and then there are those who want peace, equality, dignity and if I would consider their actions morally right. I would tell them you're kind.

If history has taught us anything, there has been far too many wars and conflicts groups of people who consider themselves "better", "superior" and "right". When will we see that we have to live together and celebrate our diversity while maintaining the dignity entitled to every person?

Sam Shepard and Santa Fe

August 9, 2017

You may have heard that the playwright and actor Sam Shepard died last week. He seemed to me someone who remained true to his need to write about life, exploring various themes in his plays and searching for depth in relationships with people and places.

At the same time, he appeared enigmatic. He liked living in out of the way places, like Santa Fe, New Mexico where he resided from 1983-86 and again from 2010-2015. He likely left the second time because of the advancing stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) to return to home and family in Kentucky.

According to an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Shepard first visited Santa Fe as a child, arriving by train. His father was an Air Force bomber pilot stationed at one of New Mexico's military bases. That sounds a bit like my story. My dad was also an Air Force bomber pilot and when I was about nine we took a trip to California by train and stopped in Santa Fe.

The article also refers to a good creative period for Sam Shepard in 2010-11 when he was chosen as a Miller Scholar and got a year to write at the Santa Fe Institute. Shepard enjoyed the time away from the limelight and since most of the community there were scientific researchers and thinkers it led to intellectually stimulating conversation.

I enjoyed watching Sam Shepard in his various movie roles. Movie roles afforded him t
he opportunity to take time off to write. He was an interesting and gifted person and fit right in with New Mexico.

Exploring Your Inner Life

August 6, 2017

When I speak of your life being your story I am referring to more than your day to day existence and all the things that happen to you.

I am speaking about life. What does that make you think about?

Life is more than your life circumstances.

Life is each breath, each heartbeat, and, most importantly, what you are doing with your life.

I have found that life is not about me...I am about life! The more I get involved in living life with a focus on others (rather than my small and often self-centered false self) the better my life is.

We are made to live in community. Does that mean we don't ever get time for ourselves, for some solitude, peace and quiet?

Of course not! We need those quiet times to reflect, recharge and refocus. So that we can go back out among others and have something to give. You can't giveaway what you don't have.

A lot of inner life exploration (some call it your spiritual and contemplative side) results from things that happen and what we then do about it. This is particularly true with the harsh and tragic circumstances we all eventually encounter. If you don't have an inner life to pull strength from things will soon become overwhelming.

I know for my own journey it took being confronted with some difficult truths about myself and the realization that I can't control or fix many things. Nor should I.
Letting go is not the same as giving up.

Yesterday I read a guest blog post on The Memoir Network site. The writer, Marilea Rabasa, spoke from her heart about exploring her inner life and how her regular habit of writing about her life has helped her deal with the difficult road of recovery. Addiction is a problem confronting many of us. Her addiction and the disease of addiction in her family shook her to the core. Like most addicts, it takes reaching the end of a rope (some call it hitting bottom) before the likelihood of any real change can take place.

Read her piece, Spelunking, and see if there isn't some truth in there for you to unwrap. Even if you don't deal with anyone who has an addiction you can still find some powerful words in her essay. She is exploring her inner life. I like how she addresses the need to find clarification (which she finds in her writing) and the process of change.

 Everybody has a story to tell!
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