Everyone’s Story Matters
by Father Charles L. Fuld
By Father Charles L. Fuld
Every once in a while, our local National Public Radio (NPR) station plays a recording of a recent interview of a friend, a family member or a famous personality under the auspices of an outfit called “StoryCorps,” which later takes each of these recordings and makes it part of the collection of 50,000 such recordings it has already stored in the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress.
The stated intent of StoryCorps is “to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connection between people ... and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everybody’s story matters.”
Everyone’s story does matter, especially since we so often fail to tell it or seek out the story otherwise. How did Mom and Dad or your grandparents come to this country? What did they leave behind? What was it like growing up in Harlem, or the Bronx, or in the picking fields of Central California years ago? What was it like managing a family while Dad was off fighting in a war? What was it like to lose a beloved spouse and be a single parent?
Both of my parents died without my asking the likes of these questions. To this day, I wonder about all I don’t know about them and the struggles they faced. They were my parents; I guess I took that and them for granted.
So one of my personal goals, now that I’m up there in age, is to put down part of my life story — not so much for my immediate family but for the generations beyond — and not to show how great I was — but to help them understand how each of us struggles (just as they do) in our own way to live a good life, and how we too made our life decisions — for better or worse, but lovingly.
As that loner kid from the Bronx who became a married naval officer, later a widower raising three kids, and even later a Catholic priest, I have lots of stories to tell. And I’ve encountered lots of other people’s stories along the way, that’s for sure. These are stories that should be written down and not lost. Maybe they should be recorded interview-style, perhaps at a birthday party. Maybe you need to start keeping an exchange of letters that ask questions about family events and history. It could be a day just set aside for annotating the backs of old photos with captions telling who, where, when and what these photos depict. It could also be as simple as taking a batch of photos to Costco or some such outfit and producing a photo book of a party or a trip together. It could be a treasure hunt in the attic to find all the old 8mm movie reels we may still have and get them transferred to DVD. Imagine putting something like that together while you can — perhaps to send to some national archive, but even more importantly for your family to cherish in generations to come.
I remember presiding at a funeral several years ago for a man I barely knew. There was no eulogy offered, so I went among the people gathered and asked them what they remembered about him. Various people spoke up about him as being a good neighbor, a nice guy, and a guy who went to church regularly. After a while I headed back to the altar, but on the way noticed a man seated by himself to one side. I decided to stop and ask him what he remembered of the deceased. He replied, “Oh, he saved my life during the war.” As you can imagine, every eye in the church shifted to this stranger. No one knew that the deceased had been in the service, had been in a war, or that he was a hero. He never spoke about it, and we would have never known but for the stranger. It would have been an important story lost about a man we thought we knew and can now admire all the more.
The Southern Cross
Father Charles L. Fuld is the managing editor of The Southern Cross.