Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Story of a Life

I love old-timers- their candor, sense of humor, wisdom, experiences, and mostly the way that nothing seems to faze them after all they’ve seen and done.
When the economy slowed down, I used the opportunity that fewer work hours allowed to volunteer at a nursing / retirement home.  Utilizing its volunteers to the best of their abilities, I was asked to write the life histories of the residents- beginning with those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s- to be gifted to their families.  Eventually, I would speak with the other residents as well.
It surprised me how many people did not believe they had a story to tell. 
They did not believe they saw, did, or experienced anything worth writing about.  
So I would just sit and chat with them, asking about details that make everyone’s life interesting. 
Everyone has experienced triumphs -no matter how insignificant they seem. 
Everyone has encountered tragedies- no matter how alone we feel while going through them.
This particular generation had also seen a world war and the great depression.
Some had achieved greatness in their industry (one had a patented invention that is still in use today).
Others had been born into a time and situation where society limited what they could achieve, but they pressed on and made the most of it anyway (one man had played for Negro League baseball). 
Some had accomplished the improbable by making the most horrific of situations a little more pleasant (a WWII vet had created his own version of a gourmet restaurant for his comrades on the front line. He refused to talk about fighting in the war, only the food he served the men after it was over). 
And some simply survived (one mother escaped war-torn Europe with her family; a struggle that took years).
There was a school teacher who traveled the world and began theater classes where there would have never been any, and a centenarian who currently spends her time in Internet chats with young students teaching them about what life was like when she was a child.
I would sit listening in awe to all of them as they spoke matter-of-factly, sometimes nonchalantly, about situations and circumstances –highs and lows- joys and pains- hopes and fears- none of them realizing how truly amazing their lives had been.
I always ended the interviews with the same question, and strangely enough I would always get the exact same answer.  I would ask, “What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?”
And these people, from different countries, different races, different backgrounds, and different experiences, all uniformly answered “My family.”

So now, in addition to everything else these individuals have succeeded in throughout their lives, they can add to it inspiring me to begin my own family. 


  1. How inspirational.
    Maybe some day you can write my story.

  2. Love this story. I just finished a movie I made for my Grandma about her life (she's 95). She did not think there was a story to tell whatsoever...she was very wrong. Can't wait to show it to her!