Time Capsules: Time Travel for Your Stories

This week, we’ve been reflecting on how we keep the past alive in our lives in different ways. Human cultures keep their history alive through different storytelling traditions. Individuals find private ways to keep alive the memory of lost loved ones. But what happens when our lives become the past? What might we leave behind for future generations to keep alive in the future?

We know we won’t live forever. We know that life will continue long after ours has ended. We talk about the legacies certain individuals leave behind in their life’s work, but that can feel like a tall order to those of us just trying to put one foot in front of the other. How about … a time capsule?

Photo by the Bostonian Society, featured at: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2014/10/15/contents-inside-old-state-house-time-capsule-revealed/#gallery-2-7

In January 2015, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts opened a time capsule originally placed underground in 1795, likely by Paul Revere and John Adams. Inside the capsule, they had preserved – among other items – five newspapers from that time, a collection of coins, and a seal of the Massachusetts Commonwealth. How cool, right?! (Or am I the only history buff here?)

Everyday artifacts like those found in the Boston time capsule would otherwise easily deteriorate, go missing, or otherwise disappear over time in our homes. Making your own time capsule is one way to send your stories traveling through time, leaving something of life as you know it to be discovered by someone in the future. Here’s what you need:

  1. A secure capsule. Find a container made of strong plastic or stainless steel that will accommodate all the items you want to pack inside. You might also consider a screw top bottle. Whatever you use, make sure it seals against outside water and air.
  2. A collection of everyday artifacts. Paper items work well (newspaper articles, maps, a personal diary or a favorite book), as do metal items (coins, key chains, pins, jewelry), textiles (item of clothing, handkerchief, etc), and photographs. Make sure everything is clean and free of bugs or any kind of chemical treatment. Don’t put anything that might contaminate other items in the capsule or will change in any way on its own over time, like food, plants, animals, or anything made of rubber.
  3. A place to plant your capsule. You might bury your capsule in your yard, for the next owners to find, or maybe hide it somewhere in your home to uncover later yourself. If inside your home, keep away from heating / cooling vents and anywhere else where temperatures may reach extremes.

I suggest taking a look at the guidelines put together by the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute on constructing a time capsule and what to include. They have ALL the details you could ever imagine, including a list of chemicals you may not realize are emitted by certain substances over time.

Once you make your time capsule – I’d love to hear about it! You can share your story by clicking on “Submit Your Story” in the menu above and, if it’s alright with you, I’d love to share it in a future post on this blog. If you have a photo or video you’d like to submit along with your story, let me know. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous in the sharing of your story, I will not share your name. If you’d love for people to know about your creative work with your family stories, I’m happy to share your name and links. THANK YOU for taking a moment to share your story, I will do my best to honor it in the sharing.

Some other helpful resources on making your own time capsule:

Library of Congress

Northeast Document Conservation Center (for the general preservation of family artifacts)

Time capsule ideas on Pinterest




Life and Death and Life: Keeping the Memory of Lost Ones Alive

I lost a favorite aunt to cancer last year. At her graveside service this summer, we each selected a different flower from a bouquet to place in her grave with the ashes. After laying my flower, I was watching others do the same, when I saw a great blue heron flying in its awkward gait in near silence, low to the ground and right over our small group on its way to the pond beyond the trees.

Photo uncredited, from http://dunescenter.org/dunes-in-flight-the-great-blue-heron/

Was it her? I thought. Is she here among us, still, in some other form?  

As we grieve the loss of a life, we come to fully comprehend death as a part of life; over time, we see how death also gives way to new life, and we find both little and large ways to keep living our own lives. As a collective human culture, we keep past lessons and experiences alive through the telling of stories in a variety of cultural traditions. Our little family is no exception, filling the empty space at the dinner table with new stories about my aunt’s life every time we gather.

Hello & Goodbye, the first song on Dreams & Ghosts, is a song about how our past lives remain a part of our present lives, and invites the question: How do you keep the past alive in your life? For those interested in actively recording their reflections on these questions, I like to offer different writing exercises to accompany these invitations.

I’m sure my small story about my aunt made you think of someone who had a large presence in your own life. Or perhaps it made you think of a small ritual or some creature or object that always reminds you of someone from your past. Whatever it made you think of, start there.

Try this:

Set a timer for 10 minutes. On a blank piece of paper, or in your journal, or on your voice recorder, start with that person or that symbol and tell the story of it. Don’t stop talking, don’t lift the pen from the page if you can. Don’t worry about the order of things, just write. If you get stuck, come back to this: Who has had an important impact on your life? How do you keep that person alive in your life? What are three things you want to make sure you never forget about them?

What have you discovered? What surprised you? What are the gaps in the story that might be able to be filled by others who remember these places?

If you like, I welcome you to share your story, and let me know how you experienced this exercise. You may also be interested in looking at other writing exercises on this blog.


How Stories Are Told Around the World

Stories are how we make meaning of the past. We tell stories to share this meaning in the present and inspire action and thinking for the future. This week’s blog question is: How do you keep the past alive in your life? I encourage you to consider submitting your story, which might be as short as a description of some small ritual or as long as … well, as long as you like.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember that there are many ways to tell a story. The oral tradition of storytelling is the most obvious, but every artistic medium offers itself to the telling of a story: dance, visual art, music, crafts, and more.

TED is an organization that is devoted to sharing ideas that are worth spreading. Check out the article Amy S. Choi wrote for them, titled How Stories Are Told Around the World, about just that. See if it doesn’t inspire you to consider how you might tell your story?


Track 1: Hello & Goodbye: Keeping the Past Alive

The opening song on this album, Dreams & Ghosts, is a tune called Hello & Goodbye. On the first listen, it’s a simple story about someone walking around their neighborhood. But listen closely – this is a song about living in the past.

There are many ways in which living in the past is not necessarily a good thing, as you might imagine the narrator of the song feels when he makes his discovery. However, keeping the past alive in our present lives can also be in service of staying connected to a person, a place, or an experience that is no longer in our lives. In fact, as humans, it is in our nature to make meaning of our experiences. These meanings all together make up our memory, or what we remember.

Individual and collective memories interact with each other, so that individual experiences contribute to a sense of a collective’s history, and likewise, this history contributes to the learning experiences of new individuals. This process of remembering our way into the future is a basic mechanism of human survival. Without making meaning of the past, we have no direction forward, we learn nothing and we know nothing. Being meaning-makers is what makes us human.

Ok, one more step. Stay with me. How do we make meaning in a way no other species does? We tell stories. What we remember and how we understand the past can determine most any choice we make, from what to order at our favorite brunch spot this week to deciding what career we want to pursue (or not); from the smallest to the greatest of goals and aims.

Each song on this album offers its audience – that’s you! – a certain invitation, a question, an opportunity to pause and think about your own stories and experiences. With Hello & Goodbye, I invite you to ask yourself: How do you keep the past alive in your life? What are the memories you keep with you in some tangible – or intangible – way through each day? The people, the places, the meaningful experiences? What rituals – intentional or not – have emerged in your life in honor of the past?

You’re welcome to share your story and experience – my ears and heart are always open to a good story! You may also want to check out posts related to the category Hello & Goodbye: Keeping the Past Alive and/or other Invitations and Writing Exercises offered by the songs of this album.