Listening Is an Act of Love
In 2001, as I was making the transition to a documentary career, I had the good fortune to hear Ira Glass speak at DoubleTake Magazine’s summer documentary institute. His insights (on how to find stories, on the failures of American journalism, on the art and science of putting together a show like This American Life) were captivating, but what stayed with me the most was his closing comment.
I wish I could give you his exact words, but I recall it being something to the effect that modern documentarians work in the tradition of Scheherazade; after 1,000 nights of telling her tales, Scheherazade managed to turn a misanthropic maniac into a loving human being, and those of us in her wake are trying to do some version of this. In examining the lives of others, we come away a little less judgmental and a little more compassionate, both towards others and ourselves. In listening, we commit an act of love.
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I mention this to offer a segue to StoryCorps’ wonderful collection of interviews. Given that Friday marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, this book is the most thought provoking $15 gift that I have come across yet. And even the most attention-deficit non-readers among us have time to read a few pages. I opened the book to page 196 just now and and read an interview with a nurse named Mary Caplan who recounts her brother’s untimely death and the ignorance surrounding AIDS just two decades ago. “Grief,” she says, “is when you get up the next day and you see the sun, and you say, ‘Will I ever think the sun is beautiful again?'” Grief, ecstasy and everything in between, it’s all in there. If you have a heartbeat, chances are that you will find something to like in this book.
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Speaking of this Friday, it also marks StoryCorps’ first National Day of Listening.
This holiday season, ask the people around you about their lives — it could be your grandmother, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood. By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year.
StoryCorps is a national treasure, one that reminds us that everyone has stories and that all of us can be documentarians. For more info on how you can participate in the National Day of Listening, go to the site and click on participate.