I’m helping a lot of people tell their stories these days, and I’m more convinced than ever that this is the work I was intended to do.
For several months now, I’ve been helping a 76-year-old woman in Concord write her memoir. She’s a second-generation American born to Italian-American parents. She grew up in the Boston area, met her husband on White Horse Beach in Plymouth a few days before her eighteenth birthday, and spent her college years having fun with him and his friends around the Harvard campus.
People who know I’m working on this project ask me why I find it so worthwhile. It’s not that I think the story will be of great interest to people who don’t know the main characters. It will be self-published with a print run of 25 or 30; our target audience is the woman’s children, grandchildren and a few family friends. But the fact that it’s no literary masterpiece doesn’t keep me from loving the time I’m spending working on it as a ghost writer. I like hearing about people’s lives, but more importantly, I embrace the challenge of using words to impart the same sense of importance that the people involved sense intuitively. To the woman in this story, whose husband died three years ago, this is a love story, a tale of how two young people from humble backgrounds grew up to be valued citizens, good parents, and dear friends to many. It’s a simple story – but it matters to her, and it matters to me.
I’m also helping another client compile inspiring interviews with NFL players. Each player has been interviewed and has told us the story of his life: my job is to weave those stories into a compelling and accessible narrative. And again, just as with the story of the Italian-American immigrants, it doesn’t take a lot of effort for me to sense and to try to convey the heartfelt importance behind these stories. The men in the NFL book all became successful professional athletes. They took a variety of paths to get there, but they all have lessons to impart if I just listen to them carefully enough and give enough consideration for how to explain what they are trying to say.
Last night I went out for dinner with a friend who wants to write the story of her family’s current life, which is a lot different from either of the other projects. She was a divorced mother of three; a year ago she met a divorced father of three, and the two married. She has started crafting the anecdotes from their first year of marriage into a memoir, and as we had dinner, I told her how genuinely I believe in the potential of her project. She too has a vital story to tell, one that will be meaningful and significant to a particular audience.
I like writing my own stories too, but as I work more with other people on theirs, I am beginning to believe this is a calling of sorts. Everyone has a story to tell; I feel as though I have an ear for discerning the narrative thread in each person’s account of their own life and helping them to weave it into a whole. I love these stories, and I’m honored to help tell them. Stories are an archetypal part of being human, and it’s fascinating work to be playing midwife to so many examples of how people turn their lives into narratives full of meaning, significance and ultimately even profundity.