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Ordinary people in a book | Joan Bay Klope

There was a time during my childhood when I’d complain if my parents suggested I read for pleasure. The recommendation usually occurred following that age-old protest that I had nothing to do and was bored when the neighbor kids were unable to come over and play.

This scene played out long before Xbox, cell phones, and computers. I could watch limited TV programming offered by the three national networks, play with my brother, and listen to my clock radio or sort through my stack of LPs and set them up on my record player. I could sew, color, journal, dress my Barbie dolls, ride my bike or skate, cook with my mom, play outside with my pets, or heaven forbid, walk three blocks and spend time in the nearby library.

It never occurred to me to pleasure read until I met Maggie Marsh. She grouped me with classmates with like reading abilities and brilliantly enticed me with this scenario: If I’d read 50 books I’d earn an A in reading for the school year.

A classic overachiever in school, I was all over that challenge. I pressed through the first few books and probably complained bitterly. I was a tortured figure, I’m sure. But somewhere among those words I was drawn in. I’d head to the library with only one parental rule: I had to be able to carry out and haul home my book selections with no aid.

They were wise. They understood my natural enthusiasm and had long ago learned that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. This applied to food and library books.

It was my amazing sixth-grade teacher who gifted me with an absolute love of books. And I’m enjoying the beauty of our summer weather by sitting on my porch, buried in books whenever my schedule allows. I can’t seem to wipe this silly grin off my face.

I began by reading Conrad Anker’s 1999 account of finding George Mallory’s body at 27,000 feet on the north face of Mount Everest. Considered Britain’s finest mountaineer, Mallory and his climbing partner Sandy Irvine were last seen 75 years earlier working their way toward the summit before clouds and darkness closed around them. The account of this discovery provides a fascinating look into human nature and a historical look at the often terrifying sport of climbing our highest peaks.

I’ve read brilliantly written columns penned by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Anna Quindlen. I’ve also come to love the fictional characters that make their home in a town called Mitford and who bring color into the life of their bachelor rector, Father Tim. All this can be found in Jan Karon’s best-selling books referred to by most readers as “The Mitford Series.” It makes for charming, stress-free reading for a summer’s afternoon.

But it is the book, “Listening Is an Act of Love,” that has reminded me of the true beauty to be found in the lives of ordinary people. Drawing from more than 10,000 interviews, StoryCorps, the largest oral history project in our nation’s history, presents in this book stories of ordinary Americans, told by the people who lived them to the people they love.

It’s a fascinatingly simple process. If you want to tell your story, you can make an appointment to visit one of StoryCorps’ recording studios and bring along anyone you choose. A story facilitator will invite you into a cozy booth that contains a table, chairs, two microphones, and a box of Kleenex. You have 40 minutes to answer question like:

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

What did your mother sing to you when you were a baby?

How do you want to be remembered?

What were the happiest/saddest moments of your life?

At the end of 40 minutes two broadcast-quality CDs have been created. One goes home with you. The second becomes part of an archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. This means your great-great-great grandchild might someday be able to listen to your voice and hear your story as it was recorded.

How cool is this?

This entire project speaks to one of the greatest messages God has for each one of us: We were born for a reason, we have infinite value, and our lives can encourage, enliven, and offer hope to those around us. We don’t have to silence voices shrouded in ordinariness; our stories are meant to be told.

Storytelling has been the foundation for this column for 14 years and in a world filled with celebrity hype and Jerry Springer-like scenes for television cameras, there remain in this world the rest of us who may initially believe we have very little with which we can gift the world. In truth, our experiences have the power to bring depth and beauty to our world and unit the hearts of perfect strangers.

Next week I’ll tell you some stories people have shared with me during the last couple of weeks. Come back to Faithful Living with some Kleenex.

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