I had heard of Storycorps, even watched a few of the animated shorts they feature on their website, but I didn’t know much about the project so I asked for “Listening is an Act of Love” for my birthday. It sat on the shelf for a couple of months, while the semester ended and life was crazy, but finally I picked it up and I am so glad I did.
StoryCorps is an attempt to interview and record the life experiences, the trials and tribulations of everyday Americans…to preserve their stories. “Listening is an Act of Love” is a collection of snippets, some only a page or two long, of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, neighbors and co-workers and best friends and the times they have lived in. Some are funny and some are heartbreaking, but they all offer a glimpse of the beauty and the tragedy apparent in everyday life.
One woman, speaking about caring for her brother until he died of AIDS during the epidemic of the 1980s said, “Grief is when you get up the next day and you see the sun, and you say, ‘Will I ever think the sun is beautiful again?'”
A grandfather, one of twelve children of a country doctor, told amusing stories about his experiences when his father went out on calls, before telling his grandson about how he met his wife and advising him to “get yourself a pretty redhead like your grandma!”
A man from Pennsylvania, interviewed by a friend, raved about the beauty of making steel. Here is a job, a terribly hot, backbreaking job, and that is all he ever wanted to do with his life. “Steelmaking is just beautiful,” he said. “It’s unimaginable beauty. When you’re changing a furnace, you get all these sparkles off the iron, and so you just see thousands and thousands of sparkles.”
These are the words of average people, people who no one outside their family or close friends may know. People who live daily lives, strangers to the world, with stories of depression and war and hope and love tumbling around inside of them.
One of my favorite quotes, by Mitch Albom, is: “There’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking.”
These stories, these incredible stories, leave me with such a sense of wonder and even a sense of urgency. All I want out of life is to live among people, these people, to hear their stories, to learn from their wisdom and understand their pain and rejoice with them for their happiness. Whether a journalist or not, I couldn’t imagine not telling stories….and not listening to them. How people can spend their lives cocooned in their own world, holed up and unobservant of the world and the people around them, boggles my mind.
It is just a gift how beautiful ordinary life can be.