Someone recently asked me what I like most about my work. I replied, “I like hearing people’s stories. I like watching their personalities shine when they tell their story. It’s fun.” That’s the short answer. But there's more to it.
I love that asking someone a question about their past opens a window. I can see who they are a little better through this window. I can see them actively shining their light a little brighter as they tell their story. I see they are more than just a mother, or a husband, or a lawyer, or a hairdresser, or whatever labels they provided during our introduction. I find out what it means to them to be a mother, a husband, a lawyer, a hairdresser. I can see that they are a complex and beautiful person.
This does not always happen in regular day-to-day life. Sometimes we hear a personal question and we regurgitate the same old same old. We say the same thing we say to people who aren’t really interested, who aren’t really listening. But when I take the effort to sit one on one with someone, when I really open myself to their answer, their heartfelt answer, when I give them permission to ramble, permission to show emotions, to show their excitement, to feel sorrow or joy in the telling – that is when they open the window. That is the moment we connect. This open window connects their world to my world.
This connection can go beyond just the storyteller and me.
In my work, these questions and answers are intended for posterity. I’m helping people to make a permanent record of their lives. Their words, their stories will become a book or an audio recording. This is something that will be saved, treasured.
The window becomes a book a granddaughter will take with her to bed to read one night. She will read her grandmother’s stories and recognize herself, recognize her own struggles and her own victories in their experiences. She will have a window to her grandmother’s true self, and to her true self.
The window becomes a recording of a father’s voice, of laughter, a unique character imprint that his son or daughter or wife will listen to someday after he is gone. They will hear his voice and it will be as if he is still with them. That voice is comfort.
Words. Stories. Voices. These are such powerful things. Such powerful, lasting things that can linger for hundreds and thousands of years.
Sometimes I think my work is too stuck in the past. I spend a lot of time talking about the old days with my interviewees. We reminisce about how things used to be. But then I remember I am building windows. I am helping people to become time travelers. They are traveling to the past – and the future.