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Listening is an Act of Love

A bus driver guides the elderly woman off the bus to an unfamiliar restaurant where  she’s meeting friends, then hears her tell him why that day and his help touched her. A teenager confesses her cutting became addictive and how her love of her mother and best friend helps her get by.  

Over 23,000 people have sat down in a booth with a simple recorder and a volunteer – ready to tell a life-changing story, to declare their love, acknowledge their regret and more.

At the Story Corp they opened up because someone was ready to listen.  As founder, Dave Isay says, “Listening is an Act of Love.”  The stories explode 

off the page” admits Isay in his interview today on public radio – my station is KQED

This is the first ever National Day of Listening – another Story Corps-generated idea. Today we are asked to spend an hour asking a loved one about their life. Don’t be one of those who says later on, “I only wish I had asked my mother and father to tell their stories – and share my story about them.” 

Unexpected memories flood back as one sits in a booth for 40 minutes, with someone there just to listen to you. “What was the happiest moment of your life?” “What are you most proud of?”  “How do you want to be remembered?”

I didn’t wait for Story Corp to come to Sausalito. Over the past four years I’ve sat several times, small Olympus recorder in hand, at my dining room table with the view of Angel Island in Richardson Bay and asked my parents to tell me about growing up, falling in love, raising us four children – and what they most believe in and why.  We continue these conversations sitting in their living room in Portland, looking out at the giant sequoias – the “old growth like us” my Dad observes dryly.  

One story I’ve heard since childhood still chokes me up. While soldiers in World War II Dad and his brother Harold, stationed thousand miles apart in the U.S., went AWOL. They were to be sent overseas shortly. From letters  my grandmother wrote to them, they located each other and somehow agreed to meet in a cafe in a small town, located mid-distance between them.  Dad came first and waited several hours, drinking several cups of coffee and eating a grilled cheese.  But when Harold walked in and sat down they mostly talked about small things. The cherries their mom was canning, the songs their sister was playing on the piano for their Lutheran church’s Christmas service, combat training.

Knowing they might not see each other again, they synchronized their watches and made a plan in their usual, logical way.  At precisely 2:00 pm, they would rise from the table, walk out the door, one turning left and the other right. 

You can have a temporary listening booth in your library, company cafeteria, synagogue, museum, school  – or other place where people can walk in, sit down and tell a story that has stuck in their mind over the years.  Bring a family member or friend.  Volunteer to hear and record stories for a couple of hours. 

Story Corp booth has just been installed across the water in San Francisco at the beautiful new Contemporary Jewish Museum – a place dedicated to offering art and culture to the whole community. How apt a place to listen and to be heard as we mourn for the rabbi, his wife and over 100 others who were killed this week in Mumbai.

 Listening with friends, tears come to our eyes as we hear individuals tell stories that remain fresh in their mind years after they happened. 

 Continue to give thanks by listening because, as Issay reminds us, “Every life matters.” In this faltering economy why not create a priceless, heirloom gift for your loved ones?

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