Do you remember the sound of your great-grandmother’s laughter? Do you remember her stories?
When I’m not writing my own poetry or essays, I’ve created the best job in the world. I listen to, and write down, stories of people’s lives so they can leave a printed legacy for future generations. Or, for those who have the desire to write themselves, I create short assignments and an outline with the end goal of the story of a life.
Frequently these sessions are a gift to parents from their children. I smile when I get approached about this, because of course it’s a grown child’s own gift to be able to hold the previously unrecorded story of a parent.
The absolute most rewarding aspect of my job as family story coach is when someone looks at me across a kitchen table and says, “Thank you for listening. I haven’t thought about that ______ in years.” I tear up more often than I’d like to admit.
Turns out that small details like plummeting downhill on a first red two-wheel bicycle, or sweeping up into a hot Midwestern summer night on a Ferris wheel, are elements of a life that might have been forgotten if I hadn’t thought to ask, “Do you remember your first broken bone?” Or, “When was the first time you held a boy’s hand?” These small memory jogs frequently lead to a deeper story. Of a first career inkling, or a lasting love.
So many people say, “Why would I want to write my story? My life isn’t extraordinary.”
I respond, “Of course it is, especially to those who love you.”
Some say, “Why should I tell my story now? My life isn’t over.”
I say, “Thankfully, that’s true. But at some point, the distant past fades. It might be forgotten altogether. Can we start with when you were small?”
Here’s a secret. To me, each life is extraordinary. All the human ways we find to grow and learn, to make mistakes, to recover, to be brave or timid, to love hard or hardly love. We are all amazing in our complexity and in our simplicity of wanting to be heard.
Listening is a great act of respect. It sows dignity and reaps understanding. And if you listen very carefully, there’s usually a moment of mirth just about to be called forth. To be in the midst of spontaneous laughter is such a gift.
Women’s History Month seems like a good time to commit to listening to a female ancestor’s story. Or, decide to finally tell your own. Write it down. For now. Or for later. You really are more extraordinary than you’ll ever know.
Reach out in the comment section below if you’d like a few prompts to get you started on beginning to write your life, or if you’re interested in learning how we could work together.
Now go be you, in all your ordinary glory.