This past July I sat in a restaurant with two friends and one, Linda Hannum, described the experience her son had when he was a volunteer in Haiti. To say it was extraordinary barely scratches the surface. During the conversation Linda said that one can never truly grasp what those people are going through and she added the statement that is the title of this post. The Myth Of A Shared Reality. The use of this phrase was in context with the topic of her son’s trip to Haiti and how people from such drastically different lives/worlds can interact but never truly understand what the other person’s life has been/is. My memory is foggy at this point as to who was responsible for coining the phrase but needless to say it struck a very loud chord with me.
We’ve all heard it before, philosophical phrases such as “Never criticize a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins.” There are hundreds of derivatives of this phrase, all essentially warning one about the dangers of passing judgment upon another person. But the myth of a shared reality seems to resonate deeper than all the other philosophies. It suggests, or perhaps it flat out states, that the idea of one person truly understanding the reality of another person is not possible at all.
Every person lives their own life. Oh sure every person’s family and friends work diligently to help shape it and guide it but when you get right down to it every life is solitary and unique.
My relationships with my family and friends are mine and mine alone. And yet my family and friends interact with other people differently than they interact with me–because my reality is mine and their’s is theirs. As an example, just because a bunch of us may have been in the same college marching band does not mean that we all had the EXACT SAME experience. If there were 240 people in the band then there were 240 SEPARATE realities of the EXACT SAME memory. (Go on, work on that for a while and see if your brain doesn’t start to overload.) Let’s get more specific and look at a singular event.
In the fall of 1987 the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band traveled to the University of Delaware for a football game. My experience during that game became my reality but it was not the same reality for anyone else. Yes we were all in the same place at the same time…but were we? Not literally. I was on a podium while the vast majority of folks were on the field. Each of us had different responsibilities–albeit some were similar person to person but ultimately they were all different in some manner. Thus, our realities were different even though we were participating in the same event.
Now here’s where it gets just a little cray-cray…..who is to say one reality is more real than another?
My experience that day in Delaware Stadium was no better and no worse than anyone else’s, but it was, different. It was not more real for me than it was for anyone else. If you took the three drum majors of the UMMB that day (me, Rob Hammerton and Chris Gardiner), sat us down and asked us to recall the postgame performance you would get three completely different accounts with interjections of “Oh yeah!” from one of the other two people. What was important to me was not necessarily as important to them. What was the most vivid memory for me was not necessarily the most vivid memory for them. And yet we were all there at the same time in theory.
In a few days the third anniversary of the passing of my dearest friend will arrive. It will arrive with no pomp nor circumstance. It will simply be another day on the calendar. It will, however, be marked by thousands of people as they take a moment out of their day to remember a man who had a most profound impact upon every single person he ever encountered. Let me repeat that: EVERY SINGLE PERSON. I do not exaggerate and those who truly knew George N. Parks will agree with me. And every person, every single person will tell you without the slightest hesitation that this man was their best friend; that they were, in their reality, his best friend. And you know, for the most part, they are ALL correct. Why? Because this man had the ability to make every single person he met feel as if they were the center of the universe. This goes for someone he met for just a moment as well as someone he knew for 27 years. This was a unique gift and those who crossed paths with him during his life and now have their eyes open realize how lucky they were to have been able to share in part of his reality.
My reality is not shared with anyone–it’s mine. I travel this world alone as does every other person–we share it with people who come in and out of our lives but ultimately each person is on an individual journey. My best friend (for he was that in my reality) George, inherently knew this. And he lived his life accordingly. I, for one, will continue to strive to be more of what he was: a person who never self-proclaimed his reality as the most important but rather a person who shared in the lives of others hoping together they could make a difference.