A friend shared recently about how his grandfather and his pregnant wife escaped from Russia before the First World War.
I asked him if he had written the story. Writing or recording your story is so important because stories connect us. If your story is not preserved someplace, it will die with you.
Reading an autobiography by my undergraduate roommate at Furman University brought great joy and sorrow.
He had a distinguished career as a history professor, and it was a joy to learn more about his devotion to teaching. But there was also great sorrow because he has chronicled the end of an era. He is a gifted teacher who relishes the interaction with his students.
He guided them through many projects and arranged many field trips to historic sites. Students cannot get such experiences by looking at a computer screen.
The give and take between professor and student is so important to the development of young minds. Everyone who is present benefits from what they hear.
It is not just facts that are important but the process of developing critical thinking skills and learning to ask the right questions. He wrote his autobiography for his children and grandchildren, but I want him to publish it because it represents a time that will never come again.
The National Day of Listening is fast approaching. The Friday after Thanksgiving has been designated by StoryCorps as a time for recording stories. We are encouraged to get in touch with older family members and provide space for them to tell the family stories as we record them.
You can prepare a set of questions or just encourage her or him to talk. You can do the same thing with friends and within church and civic groups. The important idea is to capture the stories.
My wife, Liz, enjoyed shopping for Christmas presents throughout the year. She brought them home and tucked them away.
One Christmas morning, when the mayhem with our children, Suzanne and Michael, had run its course, she looked at my presents next to my chair and asked, “Are those all of your presents?”
When I said, “yes,” she walked away with a puzzled look on her face. Later that morning, she went into the laundry room. Hanging on the back of the door was the tweed smoking jacket she bought for me earlier in the year.
Liz is the only person I have known who actually said “balderdash” in ordinary conversations. Her most favorite line was, “It’s not out of your way if you are going there.”
Does anyone outside of our family care about these stories? No, but they are important to us. Even as adults with children of their own, Suzanne and Michael still quote their mother when we are out driving.
Stories bind us together.
We remember them better than anything else. Others can relate to our stories, and they keep our loved ones present after they have passed away. There is an old hymn, “Precious Memories,” that drives that point home.
Think about Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brought an almost-forgotten hero of the American Revolution back to life with the musical, “Hamilton.” It is a great story.
Jesus was a master storyteller. I learned his stories as a child. Decades later, I can recall those stories because they contain lasting values that have guided my life. Jesus taught by telling stories because he knew their power.
Write your story. It may not become a Broadway play, but it is important.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.