One of the most satisfying aspects of my work is retelling people’s extraordinary stories.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to hear and share a little bit of Ernest Leierer’s story. He participated in the D-Day invasion, which just happened to be his birthday, and had a wealth of stories from the war.
He came to mind this week, when I learned I had overlooked his obituary. He died, at age 97, back in August. I was honored to tell a small fragment of his story, and can’t help but wonder how many other stories we didn’t get to hear.
Mr. Leierer is only one example of the many amazing people we get to meet in my line of work. Veterans, small business owners, cancer survivors, crime victims, recovering addicts, dedicated volunteers – the list is endless, and each of them has an extraordinary story, rich with lessons to share and from which we can draw inspiration.
We love these extraordinary stories. And we should. We should listen to and honor stories of great sacrifice, service and accomplishment, and pass them on to teach ourselves and our children.
But, unfortunately, we often overlook the extraordinary in our midst. I can’t guess how many times I’ve set out to interview someone who initially shied away with this claim: “I don’t really have much of a story.” But, get them started, pull on a few loose strings of the tapestry of their lives, and an amazing story pours out.
Too often we overlook these stories. And we need them. We need to be inspired by others’ triumphs. We need to learn from grand mistakes. We need to share in each other’s joys and sorrows. And I’m blessed to tap into those extraordinary stories every day.
But, what of the extraordinary nature of the ordinary stories around us?
We love to hear the story of the veteran who flew daring missions in war. And, we should. But, what of the sheet metal worker who made the plane? What of the ground crew that made it fly? What of the wife who stayed behind to single-handedly care for the family? And, after the war, what of the rest of his or her life?
We love to hear stories of business owners and captains of industry. And, we should. But, what of the average worker? What of the family that subsists on the wages of that worker?
What of that family when the job is outsourced or cut in the name of profit?
Working a job every day, raising children, falling in love, losing a job and rebounding, falling flat on your face and getting back up, making mortgage payments and volunteering at the local civic club – these stories, amazing and necessary stories, are seldom told. But, these are the stories that make it all work. These are the ordinary stories that make the extraordinary possible. These are the accounts that are the real meat of our collective story.
In my work in journalism, I seldom dig into these extraordinarily ordinary stories. In the confines of time and column space, the extraordinary always wins out. But, as humans, we need to tell and listen to our “ordinary” stories. Because, in truth, no-one’s story is ordinary.
I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to learn this over the last few years while volunteering in nursing homes. While visiting ordinary people, who’ve led ordinary lives, I’ve learned some of the most extraordinary lessons.
I’ve learned the tremendous impact we have by simply being present, and listening – and not just when someone’s reached the door of the nursing home. I’ve learned about pain, love and empathy. I’ve learned the dignity and importance of doing the everyday things, with diligence and love, even if they go unrecognized. I’ve learned the sanctity of the ordinary extraordinary things – showing up to work, raising a family, giving back and loving as much as you possibly can. I’ve learned how long the heart hangs onto simple gestures of love and compassion. I’ve seen the facing of pain, illness, suffering, grief and death with a grace and courage I can only hope to emulate.
These are the stories we must hear, share and honor. These are the stories that make us human, and make it all work. But, you’ll never read the vast majority of these stories here, in an online column or in newsprint. No. You have to mine these stories for yourself. You have to dig into the beauty, grace, sorrow, pain and amazing joy around you each day, in each life you touch.
And, ultimately, we each must learn to recognize our own story as amazing. In each act, good or bad, grand or small, loving or hateful, we touch unknown numbers of other stories, in ways we’ll never know, making impacts we’ll never see.
Everyone has an extraordinary story. Every life is extraordinary. All our stories are woven together in the beautiful tapestry of humanity.
So, live a good story. And listen, with open minds, willing ears and compassionate hearts, to the amazing stories being written in the lives around you.