How does a classic introvert who loves nothing more than curling up on the couch with a good book, get into this business of writing people’s stories? A business where I need to go to people’s houses, ask them personal questions and remain involved in their lives from anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years.
It started with a question. My grandfather was dying and my mother wanted me to record his stories. I agreed readily enough. I loved my grandfather but suddenly I realized how little I knew him. It hurt to remember how much time I squandered with my nose inside a book when he visited us a child, instead of spending time with him. I had so many questions I wanted to ask before it was too late. What ever possessed you to start waking up at four in the morning every day? (I’m the kind of girl that doesn’t believe morning begins before 7am.) What was life like in the Big Easy in the days when corruption was rife and racism the norm? Where do our genes intersect and interrupt?
I asked and I wrote as his skin turned yellow and he refused his favorite cheesecake. We pored over the manuscript, revising, rewriting, adding in little nuggets of new information. Three days before he died, I carried that book on a plane from New York to New Orleans. He couldn’t read it at first. It would remind him too much of the people he’d miss. When he finally read it, he inscribed the book. You found more in me than I knew was there.
It sparked an idea. Why not do this for other people who wanted to get the stories before it was too late? Or preserve the memories of people who had passed?
I’d always loved reading memoirs, that intimate peek inside a stranger’s life, a life that I was usually glad not to inhabit, but watch from a bridge of words.
It was time to start writing my own.
So I did. (And yes, I had enough butterflies in my stomach to populate a sanctuary in the beginning!)
I met ordinary people who were extraordinary.
People who have echoed my grandfather’s sentiment after seeing their story recorded and written. They’d never been so aware of their strength, of their passion, of a life well lived, before seeing it through the eyes of a stranger.
Who will you ask to tell their story today? Because every person has a story. And you can be the one to hear it.