Every town, every family, every person has a “secret history.”
Some live in places like Oxford with long and storied histories. Some come from families with lines that can be traced for generations and generations. But our histories are more than just general descriptions of times or mysterious names in a lineage. And even in the most established places and among the most established families, there are gaps in memory, alternative versions of the story, and other things that simply are not discussed.
I think about childhood visits to my grandparents’ homes. I remember being fascinated with their old pictures on the walls and in photo albums. I would ask questions and they would tell me all about the people in the images. They would take me to places of significance in their towns and tell me stories of events and people from the past. Even as a small boy, I felt a sense of connection in ways I could not understand.
As I read about the secret history of Oxford, some of the interesting, funny, and sometimes dark moments in that town’s story, I started wondering about the things in our own lives that we remember and talk about. Then I thought about the things we don’t.
I thought about some of our “secret histories” and what we do with them.
There are the stories we can’t completely remember. We remember certain parts. Or we remember them in certain ways. And others have their versions. We tell them the best way we can, but these stories are not as much about facts as they are about perpetuating a legend or keeping a person or event alive in our minds.
There are stories we don’t want to tell. Maybe embarrassing. Maybe painful. Maybe just things we would rather keep in the vault or behind a closed door. But sometimes we have to talk about them. But when we do, we tend to talk about them only when necessary and in the best possible way.
And there are the stories that really only matter to us. We all have our backstories, our “prequels,” the events and experiences that have shaped us. These stories are not always interesting or particularly compelling to others, but they give context to our choices and values.
Our stories help give us a sense of identity and a better understanding of our place in the world. They may be stories that many would be interested in knowing. Or they may be stories that only matter to ourselves and a select few. Not every story has a significant meaning and not every story needs to be told in order to have value. But the stories shape us, ground us, and connect us to bigger things.