“You are a good listener and ask really good questions.”
This is what someone recently said to me about twenty minutes after we first met.
“Do you realize how interesting you are?” was my reply.
I find the interesting in everyone. I’ve discovered that if you ask people to tell you more about themselves, they will, but sometimes they don’t know what to say or how to say it. Asking some questions and showing sincere interest in what they are saying helps them tell their stories—often, stories they didn’t know they had.
I recently met a friend for lunch. I’ve known her for more than fifteen years, and she has told me the most wonderful stories about her life. I told her I would love to write down some of her stories for her grandkids. “They’re not interested in any of this, and I have nothing special to tell,” was her quick response.
I could identify. I wasn’t particularly interested in my own grandparents’ stories either when I was in my twenties, but now that I’m a bit older, I wish I had access to them and the stories of their lives. Unfortunately, I am left to piece it together from letters and second-hand remembrances.
My friend finally agreed to letting me write one of her stories, so I’m doing that with the hope that it leads to many more.
Sometimes, you have to wait for the opportunity to present itself
My father is a quiet man; he always has been. He’s not flashy, he works hard, and most people wouldn’t think he is anything special. Dad is special to me because, well, he is my daddy. I know I am lucky to have him, and I want to preserve his specialness in a way that will allow his grandkids and beyond to know where they came from.
I knew there was a story in him, and he finally told me one earlier this year. It happened on a nondescript day this past March, sitting in my kitchen. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t ready for it to happen at that moment, but happen it did.
My father was in the Army in the 1960s and served a tour in Vietnam in 1966, two years before I was born. He never talked to me about the time he spent in Vietnam, even when I asked about it. But on that day in my kitchen, he was ready to tell me about it. So I listened, carefully, because I didn’t want to forget anything he said, and because I needed to preserve it for my kids, my future grandkids, and whomever else might be impacted by his story. I’m grateful I have that story preserved. My oldest son, who is twelve, read it and was in awe. He had many additional questions, and he still has his Papa to ask, so I count him among the lucky ones.
My hope is that as we gather our stories and share them with our friends and families, it leads to more conversations. I see far too many of our older population sitting alone. I believe that one of the reasons is that no one thinks that have anything interesting to tell us. But they are so wrong. My son was able to start a conversation with his Papa, all because of one story my dad had to tell.
But what happens to the stories that are happening now, or that happened in the last twenty years? People don’t write letters to each other anymore. We constantly take pictures and post them to social media with a snippet of what the photo means. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” the saying goes. But in twenty years, no one will know what those words are unless they are written down somewhere.
It’s time we all preserve our stories. Don’t let anyone, especially yourself, tell you they are not good enough. Someday, maybe not in your lifetime, someone will be glad you did.
This is the third in a short series of posts for May, Personal History Awareness Month. Last week, Sue Hessel gave us advice in Listen to Your Mother. In week one, Janice Jacobs told us how her mother’s story still affects her in Tiny Fingers of Gold. Next week, Renee Garrick will tell us how she’s come to understand her mom’s perspective – one story at a time.
By May 18, 2016