by Anita Hecht, Life History Services, 2020


Today, the number of text messages sent and received everyday exceeds the population of the entire planet!

In a world where we measure time in nanoseconds, speak about terabytes of memory, toss out three year “old” computers for faster processing speeds, where we text, Instagram, and Facebook our “friends,” do we really listen and connect more deeply? Will the songs of our life ever matter over the din of a trillion tweets?

Yes, but only if we give a hoot.

I’ve been working in the field of personal history and life story preservation for over twenty years now, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the lament, “How I wish I taken the time to record my grandmother’s [insert your loved one’s] story.

I too, wish I could have known my grandmother, a Berlin Jewess, musical prodigy, and quiet Holocaust survivor. Yet by the time I was old enough to be interested, she was gone and there was no story left to record. Now as I look at my gray hairs and wrinkled brow, I wonder how to share and connect with my descendants. What value would my life story, or my mother’s or father’s, have for our descendants? More than the china or the old watch we stand to inherit, I suspect.

Perhaps my grandmother’s lost story lies beneath the surface of my own ambitions to preserve life stories. But there is more evidence than just my personal tale. In recent decades, the field of life story preservation has blossomed. Research shows that storytelling is healthy for both the teller and the receiver, that children learn most deeply through stories, and that elders benefit cognitively, emotionally and spiritually by reviewing their lives.

There’s an old African saying, “When an elder dies, an entire library burns down.” So what does the proverbial library of your life history contain? How would you describe your first day at school, your childhood home, your first kiss, or your first heartbreak? How did you grow your family business or choose your profession? What community work, church service, or political cause were you dedicated to? What did you learn from illness, divorce, or your crazy brother-in-law?

I often get asked during my presentations, “How do I tell my story? Where do I start? It’s so daunting!” I say simply, “Just start. Make the time.” Fill your library with the stories of your elders, favorite photographs, or at the very least, if the not most, stories from your own life, both the facts and the feelings. Hire a personal historian to help.

Ultimately, your efforts will live beyond your own lifetime. Your work is like good wine, and will gain value over time. Your descendants will marvel at your gift a hundred years from now, realizing that you thought of them and cared enough to capture scenes from a world that will be much different than the one they inhabit. Just think, a hundred years ago, people washed their hair with eggs and borax, often just once a month!

If we don’t capture our stories today, they will disappear and great library of life lessons, defining moments, and treasured values will turn to dust. But, as with most things in life, you have a choice. You don’t have to master new-fangled technology, you just have to give a hoot.


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