Every two weeks for seven years, Steve Hartman, a CBS News Correspondent, went from one random US town to another and documented the life story of one unsuspecting American. His multiple award-winning feature series entitled, “Everyone Has a Story,” produced 120 personal biographies of ordinary citizens, and confirmed the fact that each and every one of us is living out our own unique tale, and it is worth sharing. Sometimes, our stories are sad or tragic, but their message of hope and perseverance is something we all can learn and grow from. Other times, the stories are humorous or full of adventure, and just might nudge us out of our box and encourage us to live life a little closer to the edge.
Many years ago, I befriended a fellow fitness enthusiast from my local gym. I was instantly drawn to her outgoing and engaging personality, and it didn’t hurt that we shared the same name, though she went by “Joanie.” One day while we milled around the local grocery store, she shared with me her secret for meeting and talking with people, most often complete strangers. She had learned that there are few people on the planet who dislike talking about themselves, so she frequently started conversations with people by complimenting them on their attire or commenting on some insignificant issue (such as the weather) while in the checkout line. I have used Joanie’s tactic dozens of times over the years, and have had the opportunity to converse about the mundane and the serious with countless individuals.
For example, about two weeks ago, a woman I barely know shared with me that her mother had died during her birth, leaving her father widowed with five boys and an infant daughter to care for. It was the early 1960’s, a time when single parenthood was a somewhat rare phenomenon. With few community resources available to help with this sudden change in the family dynamic, her father made the decision to place all six children in orphanages until he remarried several years later. His new wife, a former nun with a son of her own, took on this family of seven and remained the matriarch until her own untimely death many years later in a car accident. A similar story was shared by a co-worker. Cathy had also spent time in an orphanage before she and her siblings were adopted by an often less-than-loving family. I personally know five women who have buried a child. I have spent a fair amount of time with three of them and have witnessed first hand their heartbreak and tears. If their stories were told publicly, such as on a television show or in a book or magazine, I promise that you would be awed by their strength and grace and their ability to move forward with their lives despite suffering such an unthinkable loss. These are just a few examples of stories I have heard over the years. I am often left speechless when I hear of the pain and suffering and loss that some individuals have experienced, and it helps me to put my own challenges, or events I view as challenges, into perspective. Other times, I am left laughing till I cry by the often hysterical tidbits that are shared. Once and awhile, I am left intrigued and even a little envious of someone who has lived an experience that I never allowed myself because I let fear or self-doubt stifle my dream.
I leave you with a challenge. Tomorrow, strike up a conversation with a co-worker, neighbor, classmate or complete stranger. Once you get the chit-chat started, zip your own lips and just listen. You just might be surprised by what you can learn, because EVERYONE HAS A STORY!