So what moves you? What makes you feel connected to generations of family and friends who were here before you that still impact the way you see your life? For most of us, we’ve learned about our past from a story told by someone in the family who has the gift of blarney.
For my non-Irish readers, this means that many of our favorite family stories were passed on by a family or friend who loves to share a great story to connect the generations, perhaps embellishing the details a bit! Now that’s a lot of blarney!
Coming from an Irish family, there was no shortage of people who were gifted storytellers. Having spent significant time writing and doing photojournalism, I’ve been blessed to hear some wonderful stories from the people I covered over the years. My favorite person with the gift of the blarney was my mother. She passed on the gift to me, but not in the way you might expect.
My mother believed that oral stories and family histories were the best way to share the family’s traditions. When I was younger I can remember all the wonderful people she shared with me. Almost every one of these people had magnificent stories that shaped the way I learn and enjoy history.
My mother’s unique gift was not to be the best story teller, but to be the best story listener. She had to be the best person I’ve ever seen at listening to great stories. She helped bring out each person’s unique story by listening and helping others to share their personal stories in a safe and loving environment.
One of her favorite holidays was St. Patrick’s Day. For over 30 years, she would go to downtown Cleveland for the St. Patrick’s Day parade and then continue on to the many bars and pubs that are around Northeastern Ohio. You could always count on Mom to introduce me to someone who had an incredible life story to share. She taught me the wonderful gift of Irish listening and I will always be thankful for this gift.
She had several ways of getting the best from every story that was shared with her. I thought you might find how she brought out the best in every storyteller she met.
First, she listened actively to the story. She would listen with not only her ears, but her eyes and heart. She was very comfortable supporting people who were unheard in their communities. I remember her putting her arms around many people when they started sharing their stories. She told me every person has a great story inside of them just waiting to get out. She would help them find their voice.
Second, she was comfortable with the silence between sentences. She would wait and smile and just make the person telling the story comfortable. I saw her do it with so many different types of people in her life that I knew it came from a place of deeper listening that few of us ever achieve.
Third, she let person talking talk. There was no poking or prodding when she was listening to another person. No attempts to one up the person or to try to impress the person with a more fascinating tale. She would just listen and provide a safe environment for the other person to share their life. When she passed away I had to call her friends to let them know. Most of them told me how much they loved sharing their stories with my mother. It was comforting to know she had touched so many people’s lives in quite an unusual way.
So, why do I share this story today? For several reasons, first because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and no matter where I am, I remember all the wonderful stories my mother told me throughout my life. Second, as some who has worked in a hospice environment and with so many people dying with their stories untold, I’d like to remind you there is something you can do to capture the stories of the people in your life.
Tonight, Dave Isay is going to share how he would like to capture the oral histories from many different people in our country. He is the 2015 TED prize winner. He leads a nonprofit called StoryCorps. This Brooklyn- based nonprofit founded 11 years ago has recorded over 100,000 American sharing their stories. He does this by recording their stories and their lives. These 40 minute interviews capture their stories and a copy is sent to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
The purpose of StoryCorps is about passing on wisdom from one generation to the next. In the future, your great, great grandchildren will be able to hear your story and share it with their children. You can see the presentation tonight when he shares his passion and purpose around this project. He will also share how he plans to invest his 1 million dollar prize. It should be great. If you’re interested you can hear his presentation live tonight online. After this special presentation the program will be available for 25.00 dollar purchase price. Hope to see you there.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!