I am fascinated by memoirs and biographies. When reading novels, we understand the need to suspend disbelief, but true stories are often stranger than fiction. Take the life of Adolphe Sax who invented the Saxophone. If an author had made him the protagonist of a novel, we would think they were prone to exaggeration.
Born in 1814 in Belgium, Sax was accident prone. It strikes me as implausible that the man could have lived to the ripe old age of 80. He was hit on the head by a cobble stone which sent him careering into a river, yet he didn’t drown. He somehow survived poisoning several times over after drinking acidic water which looked like milk. He came close to dying several times, sleeping in rooms where furniture varnish was left to dry. He fell onto a hot frying pan, burned himself again in an explosion, swallowed a pin and fell from the height of three storeys onto his head. Yet he survived them all, invented the saxophone, and for his troubles lived out his life in penury. Voltaire may have pulled off such a ridiculous plot but not many others could.
This is what I love about people’s lives. The twists and turns, sliding door moments, disasters and moments of divine intervention that are both implausible and believable at the same time. We trust in them because we have experienced something similar in our own lives. We run into an old friend thousands of kilometres from home, we meet a stranger who is destined to be the love of our life or conversely, an accident turns our life upside down. Our experiences are joyous, humbling, exhilarating, painful and unfair, but they all allow us to learn and grow.
Reading a memoir gives me a window into someone else’s struggle and the lessons they have learnt. Writing my own memoir allows me to reflect on my own experiences and try to make sense of them. We are meaning making creatures and we need our personal narrative to make sense.