What Happens If We Lose Our Stories?

The most common comment I hear from people who discover for the first time what I do at LifeStories Alive http://www.lifestoriesalive.com/ is, "I wish I would have known you (x) number of years ago when Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa was still alive." Their message is that their stories are lost. Some might argue that their stories are not lost...they are transferred via the oral tradition (word of mouth via memory alone). My experience can agree with that only to a certain point. Here are three reasons why: The way most stories are transferred from person to person and generation to generation are via the oral tradition. But how effective is that? As a kid, I used to play the Telephone Game http://tinyurl.com/yu2u6j with my friends. This is the game where kids sit in a circle, then the first player whispers a phrase or sentence to the next player. Each player successively whispers what that player believes he or she heard to the next. The last player announces the statement to the entire group. What happens? Have they "lost" the story? No, the story isn't lost, but inevitably it has changed a lot! This same effect happens when we rely on the oral tradition alone to pass along those stories we deem precious.

But some stories are, indeed, lost. Why? The story that is never asked about is never told and, therefore, lost. After I have delivered the finished LifeStory DVDs, the most common comment I hear from my clients who are the children and grandchildren of the interviewees is, "I've known them all my life but have never heard that story (or stories)." They realize that if their loved one would have died before the stories were captured, those stories would have been lost forever. I can empathize with this feeling. My grandfather and father died within two months of each other in 1997 and their stories died with them. Oh, sure, we can remember some of their stories. But I know that there are hundreds that are lost forever...and that's a horrible feeling. What gems will I never know? What connections to my past did I miss forever?

We must think of the historical examples showing the power of stories captured in order to imagine what happens if the stories are lost. Yes, Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank http://tinyurl.com/ofxas, could have told the story of his daughter who perished in the Holocaust. But what would our world be like without The Diary of a Young Girl? When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam to discover his daughter's stories written so beautifully, he realized how his life was enriched and touched by the connection that he now possessed...a connection that would have been lost had Anne not captured and preserved them.

What happens if we lose our stories? I think the better question is, "What will the people we love (or in Anne Frank's case, the entire world) miss if our stories are lost?" I can only imagine that Anne Frank didn't write her stories with the thought of what an effect they would eventually have, on her father or the entire world. But thank God she wrote them anyway.