The Endangered Stories Act- It is the Law!

Congress wouldn’t act, so I did. I took the law into my own hands. I wrote the law. Now I’m rounding up a posse to  make sure that the the law gets enforced. Reader…consider yourself hereby and henceforward deputized to carry out…The Endangered Stories Act... An Act of the People, Not of Congress.

As a storyteller who encourages people to listen to and tell family and personal stories, I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve heard the sad lament, “ I wish I had recorded grandpa’ stories. He’s gone, and now it’s too late.”  Closer to home, I think of my parents (both passed away )and all the unanswered questions I still have about the events in  their lives, and what they were thinking and feeling when faced with their particular challenges and choices.  These are questions that I wouldn’t have had enough perspective to ask about when I was still a kid. There’s a flip side to this as well. Now that I’m the ‘older generation,’ What are the stories that I’m telling or not telling to my son, and my granddaughters? 

I began really thinking about this when I tried to learn more about the generation of my great-grandparents, who were Lithuanian Jews who fleeing from pograms and arrived in the U.S in the early 1900s. By the time I got around to asking about them, not only were they long gone, but my father told me that when he had asked them about life in the old country, they would only say, “ We’re here now, we don’t want to talk about it.” Case closed and stories lost.  Remember….when a story is told for the last time and not recorded or remembered, it will be as irretrievable as that last passenger pigeon or dodo bird.

I once made a project of asking people for stories about the best gift they ever received.    Here’s one that I heard from a young waitress. Her family was having a rough go of it.  Her father had been badly injured and hadn’t worked for several years. The budget was stretched and Christmas was fast approaching. One day, this young woman’s grandmother came to her and apologized that she had no money to buy her a gift.  What she did have though was time. She offered her Granddaughter three days alone together and gave the gift of her life story, and told of things that she had not spoken of for many years. She chose to tell  these stories to this granddaughter because she had been the one who had  asked and shown interest before. With tears in her eyes, this fortunate young woman told me that this was her most precious and priceless gift.

There is nothing more valuable that we can pass on to each other than our stories.  When we capture and share our most important life lessons, we give a gift to ourselves, to the people we love and the people who love us. 

There are a myriad of ways to do this, encompassing everything from journals, to scrapbooks to  audio and video recording or simply taking time away from the television and having a little more focused conversations at the dinner table. If Grandpa resists, or if you are grandpa, you now have a powerful new tool of persuasion.  It’s the Law!   Here it is.

Endagered Stories Act current

(a version of this post was published simultaneously at goodmenproject.com)

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4 comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more Bob! Stories are our greatest gift to our children and grandchildren.

    A few years ago, I offered an elderly friend (she was 88) an afternoon of tea and listening to her life story. I asked questions and she shared her life. I recorded the session too. A couple of hours later, we finished and the two of us sat for several minutes in silence.

    Finally, she said, “I can go now.”

    I reassured her that I would give her a ride back to her care home.

    “No,” she smiled, “I can really go now. I’m ready to die.” It had been the first time, she explained to me, that she had had the opportunity to share her life story with anyone.

    Several months later, my friend died. I sent the recording to her two nieces (her only lliving relatives). A few weeks later they wrote to me to thank me for the recording. They said they had had no idea their Aunt had such an interesting life and accomplished so much in her lifetime. They were also so grateful to be able to hear their Aunt’s voice.

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