“We understand that story is not the gospel truth, or journalism, or courtroom testimony. Story is life seen through the honey jar, slightly distorted by personal experience, perception, inclination, and fancy. This is the nature of story. The fish gets a little bigger, the storm gets a little wilder, the love gets a little stronger, our bravery or disappointment gets a little exaggerated in the telling over time. There is creative tension in story. When we hear it, when we read it, when we speak it, when we write it, we filter words through our own experiences and our meaning. We shape the tale to reinforce our understanding of how life is.” Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher:Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story
No matter how we stretch or diminish the truth, it is still our truth, our story, our legacy. What a gift we leave when we write it down. I’ve never been a faithful diary writer, a writer of day to day events. I take more interest in journaling, the chronicling of my own feelings and perceptions to my life and the world around me. Though I’ve been reluctant to allow others to read these entries of my life, I’ve begun to understand the importance.
On my father’s side of the family we were given a genealogy guideline. It was a great start in tracing my family roots. What was missing were the stories. How I would have loved to hear stories told by my great grandmother Annie. She was a midwife who traveled on horseback to birth babies which led to caring for the sick and eventually to her obtaining her medical license. How I would love to read the stories of my great grandfather who was an ambulance driver in the war. His ambulance was a horse and buggy. What I wouldn’t give to know more!
I was given a biography of my great uncle on my mother’s side. I wasn’t very interested at first and tucked it away. I have been interested in family history for a while, but family story has now become a fascination for me. I remembered I had this poorly typewritten and stapled manuscript. What a treasure it turned out to be! This man took the time in his early seventies to hand write the stories of his life and his son in his later years found them, typed them, and passed them on to extended family members. He told the stories of how he left home at age twelve because his mother couldn’t afford to feed him. He told of sleeping in barns and picking up a job here and there. He told the way of travel over a mountain before roads were built. I am able to drive on the adjacent road now and look up the mountain and envision him walking the path. He told of how he met his wife at a barn dance and chased another suitor away. He told of how he finally got a decent job with the railroad and rose in the ranks and retired with prestige. Typos and all, this is one priceless manuscript. This is my legacy. This is why I’ve shifted my perspective from genealogy to lifestory writing.
I’ve often thought I’ve led a boring life and no one would be interested in hearing about it. However, some day I might have a descendant who will be thrilled to read how life was “back then”. Or I might give someone a chance to understand the great grandmother she never knew. I have the opportunity to give the future a personal glimpse of the past, an opportunity to know their legacy. I don’t know what stories I will include or which I will omit, but I plan to write down what I can. I want to weave a tapestry, a common thread from generations past to generations of the future.
If you you’ve ever thought you had nothing to leave to the people of your future, consider leaving them the gift of story. A written heritage, regardless of what it contains, is priceless.