In response to last week’s Stories For the Infinite Future, an email arrived from a reader, who is not a blogger, saying that she can’t imagine what stories she could tell because her life has been so ordinary.
Let's say this all together now: No lives are ordinary.
Even if you “only” got married, raised children and tended the backyard garden, you have stories to tell. You especially have stories your children, grandchildren and beyond will care about. Everyone wants to know who and where they came from and what those people were like, how they lived, what they did. That’s why so many adoptees seek out their birth parents and why genealogy is popular: We all struggle to know ourselves and a large part of doing that is in knowing our family pasts.
Consider celebrities. The public can’t get enough of Biography on the A&E channel, profiles on the E! channel, mini-biographies such as the “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and the celebrity biographies in book form that are published each year.
Before they were celebrities, all these people were “ordinary” too, and every book, profile and interview begins with a rendition of birthplace, family and education with attendant personal anecdotes and stories. In fact, I would argue that what we want to know most about celebrities is their ordinariness; how they are like us.
When I was producing interviews for The Barbara Walters Specials, the most frequent question I got from people I knew about the stars we worked with was, “What is Sean Connery (or Katharine Hepburn or Cher, etc.) really like?”
What those people wanted to know was what a big-time movie star does with herself when she’s not making movies. That’s what the best entertainment profiles deliver - a peek into the celebrity’s private life...
...and it is also what your descendants will want to know about you. You are part of them; your blood flows in their veins; your genes will inform their appearance, behavior, perhaps even their interests and passions.
The smallest things can make interesting stories. There is a photo of my grandmother from about a hundred years ago, and I surely wish I knew how she did her hair like that because I’d like to do that with mine. And how did she and other women, I wonder, survive hot summer days in corsets and long, heavy dresses up to their necks with a petticoat or two underneath and no air conditioning while cooking on a wood stove? If she'd written down her stories (or kept a blog), I might know.
Your stories also become a record of life in general – modern to us now – that will, a generation or two hence, contain curiosities and puzzlements. Do you have a photo of your grandchild on Christmas day plugged into his new iPod, ignoring the festivities around him? Believe me, his grandchild, who will listen to music in some way we can’t imagine, will want to know what an iPod was as he sifts through the family photos.
My father told a story of when he was a boy, being sent to his room on the second floor of the house for some infraction of the rules. Bored, he dropped notes out the window on a fishing line to his cousin who waited below. His grandmother leaned out a first-floor window to halt the game and my dad, in a panic, reeled in the line and caught the fish hook on his grandmother’s wig, snatching her bald in front of the entire neighborhood. Obviously, he was in even worse trouble then, but it’s funny years later and now it’s part of the family lore.
Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).
So let’s say it together one more time: No lives are ordinary.