Is there light, hidden deep in the story of you, that could illuminate the pathway for another person?
My friend Bob received a terminal diagnosis a few years ago, accepting the news with the same gentle spirit that characterized his life.
Before his death two years ago, Bob wrote down his memories and experiences. It was a struggle for him because he had a learning disorder, but he persisted in sharing some of his life’s story.
His story wasn’t known to his grandchildren and great grandchildren, and they likely wouldn’t have fully realized Bob’s importance in, and to, our community without his memoirs.
In the 1960s, as pastor of a prominent downtown church, he welcomed “hippies” to worship services when other congregations shunned them. He developed a coffee house that catered to them.
Bob performed same-sex weddings before they were legal, and he made a place for those who were divorced. He helped heal the racial divide in our city and worked tirelessly to help improve conditions for the homeless.
For several years, as Christmas approached, Bob went to our city’s open-air market area and handed out $20 bills to those who seemed needy. When he saw a need, he did not wait for someone else to fix it.
These stories would have been lost even to his family had he not decided to write them down. In doing so, Bob was not seeking personal glory. His daughter and granddaughter urged him to write.
His story will not make the evening news or be captured in a blockbuster movie, but his life has made a tremendous difference for all those he touched. Bob’s story gives strength to others who wonder if one person can make a difference.
There is likely a hidden gem in your story, too, that could encourage someone if you’d take the time to write it down.
Established by StoryCorps, the day after Thanksgiving has been set aside as a time for sitting down with family members and recording those wonderful family stories that will be lost if not recorded.
“The Great Thanksgiving Listen encourages young people — and people of all ages — to create an oral history of our times by recording an interview with an elder, mentor, friend, or someone they admire,” the website explains. “With permission, interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. More than 650,000 people have participated in StoryCorps to date, making it the largest single collection of voices ever gathered.”
Family is defined broadly. It might be a civic club, a church group or just friends. What matters is telling and recording the stories.
Sam Brissie was superintendent of schools in my hometown in South Carolina. He also insisted on teaching an honors course in public speaking “in order to stay close to the students and to know what they are thinking.”
Over the years, he encouraged hundreds of students, circulating a newsletter among the graduates of that class that included words of encouragement.
He wrote letters of encouragement to many of those students who left that small town for a wider arena and who often found the going rough. He encouraged students to think about opportunities beyond their provincial environment.
I was one of the grateful recipients of his encouragement. He captured much of his story in his book, One Man in His Time, about his successful struggle to racially integrate the public schools.
The late four-star general and Secretary of State Colin Powell is a giant of a man in American history. How he rose from humble beginnings to a position of power and influence is a story that inspires all who knew him and those who read his books.
We are blessed that he recorded much of his story in My American Journey and It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership. No one who knew him as a teenager would have predicted the life he lived.
We are warmed, inspired and thrilled by personal stories. They may be from well-known celebrities such as Powell or obscure people such as Sam Brissie or Bob.
Those stories need to be told, but so does yours.
Take advantage of The Great Thanksgiving Listen to record your story and those of other family members and friends.
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.