Why do I need to save my life story?

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I don’t have children, so why do I need to save my life story?

17th-century portrait of Huygens family by Adriaen Hanneman

Constantijn with his children


This is a question I ask myself often as I have children but no grandchildren. However, there is value in our stories. Recently I have been working on writing my father’s story. Dr. Robert G. Collmer is his formal name, but to me, he is Daddy. We have been talking about life and our stories and I got to thinking about why our life stories are worth saving.

Daddy translated a diary of Lodewijk Huygens, the son of a prominent Dutch diplomat to England during the 17th century, Constantijn Huygens. This younger son was something of a disappointment to the famous father who had two remarkable sons. Constantijn Huygens, Jr., is known for his work in the aerial telescope and his diaries that recorded the court life in Holland and England, among other subjects. The second son, Christiaan Huygens, is said to be the greatest scientist of that century. He is still known today for his work in centrifugal force, pendulum clock, and wave theory of light, for a small sample. Of the two younger brothers, Lodewijck, is of interest to this topic of why we should keep our stories.

As my father explained, this young man was casting about for life direction. His father, Constantijn had connections in the diplomatic world. So, he arranged for his young son to be a part of what turned out to be the last diplomatic mission between the two countries before they went to war in 1652. The only requirement for the young man was that he keep a diary. Lodewijck followed his father’s orders, and his journal is filled with all kinds of interesting facts, from daily meals to cost of items to the people he met and where he went.

Fast forward several hundred years, Dr. A.G.H. “Fred” Bachrach, head of the English Studies at the University of Leiden, the oldest university in The Netherlands. He was interested in this 17th century diary of Lodewijck Huygens, but it needed to be translated and cross-referenced concerning the people and places mentioned. They worked together on this three-hundred-old diary for a decade or so.

“What is just fascinating about this diary is the references to the diplomacy as these two countries marched to war,” my dad said. As an expert in 17th century literature and history, my dad has found this diary to be a key to greater understanding of this pivotal century in Europe. Just a mention of how significance this time was here is a short (an incomplete) list: John Bunyan (The Pilgrim’s Progress, Holy War); Elizabeth 1 died; King James Version of the Bible; John Locke; Isaac Newton; Galileo discovered the rings of Saturn; The Great Plague of London, are just a few of the amazing people and events. Oh, yes, I forgot opera during this century was developed all around Europe as well.

The little diary that Constantijn assigned his young ne’re-do-well son, Lodewijck, has opened a whole window on a time of intrigue, power, tension, horse stabling and supper. Sometimes what seems mundane to us will prove to be remarkable and momentous for a future generation, even for people who aren’t relatives.

So, our stories are needed for the future. Let’s get started…what did you do today?

Remember, when you are ready to write your story, we are ready to help!

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