History has always fascinated me. I remember being a little girl and sitting on my great-grandfather’s porch listening to him share stories of horror and honor about his time serving in the second World War. I remember hearing stories about working in the Schuylkill County coal mines and learning what life was like for a middle class family during The Great Depression. One of my favorite assignments in college was when I was asked to interview a woman at a retirement village and write a biography about her life. She lived alone because her husband passed away. She was a world traveler in her younger years and was filled with beautiful stories of adventure, love and heartache. When it comes to history, I’m certainly no buff. I’m thankful for Google, especially when I need quick facts. I don’t enjoy researching all that much either, but I do enjoy listening.
I’m not so sure what it is about the past that excites me, but I could listen to stories from times of old for hours on end. The more stories I hear, the more eager I am to hear other’s stories, to hear different perspectives and different outcomes. There are always lessons to take away and wisdom to discover.
Listening to a person’s story is hearing their heart, and when the heart has permission to open up, passion, hope, love, joy, sorrow, regret, and pain pour out in abundance. And if you open your heart to soak in the emotions of theirs, I bet you will discover that even the most painful stories have beauty hidden in them.
One thing that really fascinates me about history is that each of us has our own, and we have the ability to become our own historians. In fact, I think it’s our responsibility to be historians to ourselves. If we don’t write down or record our history who will? Leave it up to professional historians and we end up getting lost in the mass mediums of our time. To some, getting lost in the masses won’t be a big deal, but life is something to cherish and to share with others. Our stories are important. They are uniquely ours yet somehow can serve as empathy in the lives of others. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time will benefit from your stories. Or, like myself, they will simply enjoy listening.
Being our own historian requires practice and the discipline of pausing to reflect on place-markers in our past. It requires reflection of our geographical location, our emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly. I recently read an article about why people are so unwilling to admit when they make mistakes in life. In the middle of the article, the author wrote:
“This is why taking inventory of our lives and our emotions is imperative and revelatory. You feel angry—why? You feel excited—why? You love to travel—why? You hate to sit still—why? Our emotions are revealing priceless things to us about our past, present and future selves…if we dare to pay attention to them. It’s a discipline and it’s also one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others.”
I think it’s important for us to remember who we were and who we have come to be. I hope in the process of doing so we find a desire to grow. I hope in the process of doing so you are honest with yourself and vulnerable in recording the truth. If you are your own historian you can be real and honest without the fear of judgement. Despite what we display on the front-lines of social media, we all have skeletons in our closets. The reality is it’s scary to show our shadows, but the truth is you are no less of a human by admitting you have wounds that need healing. The reality is it’s also ok to display your victories and accomplishments, too. We are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, but I stick along side of “honesty is the best policy.”
During my travels in Chiang Mai, I had the privilege to hear so many different stories — stories of adventure and decision making, stories of confusion and wonder, stories of loneliness and love. I have been blessed and encouraged by each and every one of them. I am thankful they entrusted me with their stories and allowed me to be a part of the current chapter in their life. I hope all of those people feel championed because no matter their past, they have the ability to look upon what was and the power to look ahead with hope in their eyes.
His story, her story, your story, my story. Each moment of it is valuable. From front-porch conversations with my great-grandfather to retirement village talks with a widow to cafe chats with total strangers, life has been full of stories. Who knows, maybe someday you’re moments of joy and the moments you lived in dark shadows will be just what the world needs to hear. Dare to be honest and vulnerable. Dare to celebrate times of despair and confusion. Dare to recognize the value of your life, and if you’re one of those who finds history dry and boring, dare to listen to stories rather than facts and figures.