In opening up to others, we often find we’re more alike than different.
by Ken Garfield
Everywhere I go, I sense a yearning to tell our stories, an urgency to articulate who we are and what we’ve done with our lives before time robs us of that opportunity.
At a workshop I led on storytelling at Sharon Towers, 30 residents jumped at the chance to write their biographies, or at least the most pivotal part. The first to share her story with the group was a woman who took us back 80 years. She suffered from dyslexia as a child. The taunts of her classmates, she wrote, still echo. She became a reading teacher.
At Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, folks in the home office off Carmel Road launched a magazine to preserve the stories of caregivers and those they comforted until the end. I had the privilege of writing about Holly, who was 14 years old when she lost her little sister to brain cancer in 2001 at age 8. Holly found refuge at a Hospice grief camp for kids, a place where people really listened to her. Today she’s a doctor, making sure to carve out time for her patients to talk.
A few months ago, I helped a business executive write his obituary. He’s in good health, but this is why he’s successful: He plans ahead. Beyond all his achievements, he wanted to make sure I included that he learned to put his family first — that he left the office on time so he could make his child’s soccer game. That’s the part of his story he wanted people to understand.
Elsewhere in this issue (Page 40), I share the story of evangelist Leighton Ford and his son, Kevin, coming together in ministry, and the poignant opportunity it offers: Leighton lost one son, Sandy, during surgery to correct a heart problem. He was 21. Thirty-eight years later, Leighton is joining his other son to offer the hope and comfort of faith.
The most meaningful thing I’ve done this year is join a men’s group — five guys in their 60s, drinking coffee and talking about mortality, faith, health, kids and grandkids. Upstairs at Whole Foods, we tell our stories. One “assignment” was to share the moment in our lives that changed everything. When I decided to move south from upstate New York in 1976, I told the guys, I accepted a job offer from The Gaston Gazette. At the last second, The Morganton News Herald called with an offer. Not knowing either city, I all but flipped a coin and settled on Morganton — where I met Sharon, my wife of 40 years. Love found, and a life defined by a random decision that took 30 seconds to make.
We all have our moments. We all have embarked on fascinating journeys. We all can learn from each other’s joys and sorrows, wisdom and foolishness. Telling our stories, listening to other people tell theirs, we begin to appreciate that we are more alike than different.
That afternoon at Sharon Towers, I encouraged my new friends to sit down at the keyboard or pull out pen and paper and start writing. Dig out that box of old photos, and put together your life story in pictures and words. Get one of your children to help. Recruit one of your grandkids to turn on the video recorder (or cell phone) and start asking questions. Grandpa, how did you meet Grandma? What was your passion? How do you want to be remembered? Was it a good life?
Tell your story before it’s lost forever.
Ken Garfield is a freelance writer focusing on charitable causes. A former religion editor at The Charlotte Observer, he also writes obituaries and will be telling stories from time to time in SouthPark magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.