Friday, March 20, 2009

listen up

The literature teacher in me will forever love stories. The simple act of using language to inform, captivate, describe, inspire.

Every Friday as I drive into work, I hear the weekly NPR segment from Story Corps, a project of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Since 2003, more than 35,000 people have shared their stories with Story Corps. It’s one of the most ambitious oral history projects ever undertaken and if you haven’t heard about it, you really should visit their Web site and learn more.

But here’s the compelling attraction of this project – it’s purpose is not about the telling as much as it is about the listening.

The Story Corps Web site says, “Our mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.”

I resonate with this ideal.

Driving along in my car on solitary mornings, there’s nothing I can do but listen to these stories—some memorable, others strange, most seemingly insignificant, but made momentarily meaningful because someone hears it.

It's the project’s simplicity that inspires me. How will I share my stories with Sydney? How will I ensure that she hears the stories of my parents, and my parents-parents? With all of the noise, talking, speaking, podcasting, streaming, and media-savvy blogging, tweeting, status-updating chatter from every individual on the planet, can we ever hope to find again that simple situation of personal conversation: “a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary …”

My best and most growing moments have been moments of story and conversation with my grandparents, parents, teachers, mentors, and friends. The objects I love best in my home are full of story. The notes and papers that fill the “treasure” boxes in my basement are valuable because of the stories they help me to recall.

And it truly is more about the listening than the speaking—being connected with the language and ideas and concepts of others where we find a sense of who we are amongst the whole.