At the end of last week, we in the UK experienced what I like to call a “water cooler” moment. By that, I mean something that everyone is involved in or aware of in one way or another.
In this case, it was the eclipse – for most of us, the sun was only partially eclipsed; but as it was up to 90%, it was almost as good as a full eclipse, so pretty exciting. Everyone was talking about it – hence the term water cooler: a water cooler show is something everyone watches on television and then discusses around the water cooler at work the next day (although in the case of the UK, it’s more likely to be the kettle or coffee machine).
In the build up to eclipse day, a lot of people started reminiscing on Facebook about where they had been for the last major eclipse in the UK, in 1999. This is when it came to me, there aren’t many events which everyone remembers where they were when it happened. It has to be something either really rare (the eclipse, London winning the right to host the Olympics etc) or very shocking (for example, in this country hearing Princess Diana had died, or the London bombings in July 2005). There are also more local events – we had terrible flooding in our home county in 2007 and all still talk about this; and of course international events. The most obvious in this latter category is 9/11 – can’t we all remember exactly where we were, what we were doing and who we were with when we first heard about this (I was working in the Foreign Office press office, on the phone to Channel 5, discussing a programme that never got made. It wasn’t so much something I heard about as saw – we always had the television on in the office and from where I was sitting I thought something was being filmed under the sea, the sky was so blue that day).
But what about if you’ve relocated overseas? What happens to the water cooler events then? I’ve been through a few – hurricane Ivan in Jamaica, hurricane Tomas in St Lucia, the Marriott bombing in Islamabad. But we’ve moved on from all those places now, no-one I live around was there for any of those events. Occasionally I reminisce on social media with friends from those days, about those events, but for the main part it’s only my husband who really understands what I went through – because he went through it with me.
So just as we leave behind friends and schools and favourite places, so we also leave behind those collective memorie, those “water cooler” moments unique to those particular places we have lived in. Some of those events are quite likely to have been very shocking and even distressing, so to have no-one to recall them with, no-one who understands what you went through or how you felt, can be quite difficult.
The happy times, too. One of the ways we make friends is to bond over shared memories. Here in the UK, we often talk about the parties we had when the Olympic torch came through our town, or what that magic summer of 2012 was like (whether you had tickets to the Games or not). It’s difficult if you move somewhere new and everyone else has a water cooler moment that you weren’t part of. And it’s hard when you move home and no-one is interested in hearing about your memories of a particular event or occasion. No-one is going to be interested in hearing about the time I went to watch England play the All-Blacks in Auckland, or England play the West Indies in Kingston, unless they happened to have been there.
So what can you do? I know for some very stressful events, there are online groups you can join. I once saw a Facebook group for young Brits and other non-Americans who had been caught up in Hurricane Katrina and ended up having to sleep in that awful stadium. Or you could set up your own – even if it was just to share what’s happened to you all since.
Some people, of course, don’t want to remember stressful events – and that’s fine to. But for the happy events? Maybe looking at old photographs with your partner or friends who were there would help, or writing it down – blog posts are a great way to share, and find others who were “there”. Maybe you could even start keeping a book of your life for future grandchildren. Whatever you do, though, don’t let go of them completely. They are a part of you and they are important. Even if no-one else around you cares.
Do you have any “water cooler” memories? And if so are they events that you share with people around you? Or do they relate back to another time and another place?