How much do we really know about the people we see day to day? Sometimes we may inadvertently consider the people around us extras in the movie about our own life rather than complicated individuals with their own stories, hopes, and dreams.
In this remarkable TED talk, Dave Isay shares how he came up with StoryCorp, an attempt to preserve the stories of whole generations of people, including the forgotten and overlooked people in our society.
I wanted to try somethingwhere the interview itself was the purpose of this work, and see if we could give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So in Grand Central Terminal 11 years ago, we built a booth where anyone can come to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life. You come to this booth and you’re met by a facilitator who brings you inside.You sit across from, say, your grandfather for close to an hour and you listen and you talk. Many people think of it as, if this was to be our last conversation, what would I want to ask of and say to this person who means so much to me?
He talks about how he looks back on the recorded interview he made with his own, now passed, father and reflects on how vital it is to ask the questions and record the answers. Have we taken the time to ask our parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were young? What their hopes and dreams were. Who mattered to them and why. What they are most proud of and what lessons they have learned.
Imagine how much richer our own histories would be if we could hear about the hopes and dreams of the relatives who came before us. Imagine how much richer our cultural history would be if it were informed by so many perspectives.
He issues an invitation to us all:
At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.
Every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.
Have you ever wondered why everything is so beautiful? Have you stood rapt in the brilliant colors of a sunset, or listening to birdsong in the morning, or watching the way a caterpillar humps along with all its little feet working together? Perhaps there are logical, book smart reasons, like flowers are beautiful to attract bees, or animals are beautiful to attract mates or to warn predators they’re toxic, or some such thing, but don’t those answers beg the question really? Why is beauty? Could the answer be that it is to inspire awe in us? And our job is to notice.
A master violinist can play Bach on a precious instrument, and most people will just walk by:
We are living in a place filled with beauty if we only stop to notice. For inspiration, consider Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
What a gift we have been given to have the chance to notice the beauty all around us today!
Sometimes our eyes and hearts are focussed so far in the distance, that we fail to see what is right in front of us. The people we spend our days with, the beauty surrounding us, the opportunities we have to make a difference. When we zoom in to the detail, the richness of the particular moment can be astounding and surprising. What a beautiful, remarkable world we live in. So full of complexity. Each person we see is as full of contradictions and surprises as we are ourselves. Each living or created thing we see is so full of detail.
Long-term goals are great, but what a shame if we don’t appreciate each step along the way. We may work side by side with someone but barely know their name let alone what their hopes and dreams are. We may be so busy moving forward that we are blind to the heartache of even the people we live with. It is easy to speed through life with eyes averted like people descending in an elevator focussed only on the floor numbers.
Today take time today to enjoy the journey, the mysteries unfolding all around you, the people who share your path, and all the beautiful and startling things right here, right now.
Like, for example, who can not stop and be amazed at this little beagle shaking its jowls, its great ears flopping to the beat, its sturdy paws holding on in front but shifting with its wagging tail in back, the gorgeous landscape behind it? What a fascinating little miracle, right here. Just this.
Little miracle of the day.
Are there any more beautiful words in English literature than these: “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”
These are Romeo’s words when he gazes at Juliet above on the balcony, but what if we were to bring these words into our everyday encounters?
But soft! Listen to the hush here, the rapt attention, all of his focus on her, just her. What if we were to whisper these words to ourselves before we talk with someone? But soft! The world fades, the focus sharpens, all of our attention is on that person. But soft! reminds us not just to be calm and attentive, but also to be gentle and reverent. Wouldn’t any conversation shift if it were preceded by such a lovely call to silence? Wouldn’t But soft! be a perfect pairing of words to bring back into common usage?
“What light through yonder window breaks?” Again, what if we were to look at each other this way? As light, as beings capable of making the world a brighter place. Even those with much of darkness about them have an inner light, a spark of good. What if we were to ignore the dark and focus on the light in each other? What a compliment it is to be called a light! Wouldn’t someone noticing our light make each of us want to shine ever more brightly? And wouldn’t that, accordingly, make the world an ever brighter place?
Look around. Someone wants your attention.
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
Everything falls apart. Cars, buildings, peace, relationships, houses. That’s not pessimism; it’s entropy. In our quest for more, better, and brighter stuff, sometimes we forget about the energy that goes into maintaining the things we already have. In our dogged courtship and pursuit of a loved one, sometimes we forget the importance of maintaining the close relationship after we’ve sealed the deal. After reading all the books on childbirth, we sometimes forget the time and attention that goes into building a healthy relationship with a child, then teen, then adult.
If we neglect our things or relationships, they will suffer. But we don’t have to be content with this. With attention and care, anything will shine–even our most important relationships.
Take a self-exam. Consider where you put your time and energy. Does anything in your life need a tune-up?
Have you ever looked for someone in a crowd? A sea of faces, none the one you’re looking for until…..Pop! She is there- that nose, that hair, those eyes, those mannerisms, that laugh. You would know her anywhere, no matter the size of the crowd. Why is that?
Perhaps it’s because you’ve paid attention to that person. You know her as someone distinct from everyone else. She has become an individual to you. Paying attention, seeing an individual in the midst of the crowd, requires focus. It is easy to look past the individual to see the person before you– even if it is someone in your own family, school, church, city, whatever– as just part of a group. To discover the real person, that individual standing there, you have to zoom in your focus and pay attention.
In this heart-warming video, a teacher greets each of his students with a unique handshake custom-made for that child. How can the students not see the special place they each have in his heart? What a warm and welcoming classroom that must be!
Zoom in your focus and give generously of your attention.