In the days following my dad’s death, several Northwest Ohio area newspapers asked me for sound bites about what I learned from this larger than life figure who doubled as my old man. Although a sad fog hung heavy over my thoughts in those days, I remember answering varied versions of the same question in the same manner: Dad taught me that every person matters, that every person has a story to tell, and that caring enough to learn those stories is of the utmost importance.
In the years since, I’ve spent considerable time exploring this topic – in the form of a memoir (which is currently under revision) and a renewed focus in life on engaging with those I meet to try to learn more from them. Time’s battle march stops for none of us, though, and sometimes it’s difficult to remember this message, even as I devote my early mornings and late evenings to exploring it. The routine of the everyday interferes. There are family outings to attend, work obligations to meet, errands to run, and laundry to do so my clothes don’t smell worse than normal (smelly Kelly, right). These factors (and more) play a role in dulling this once sharp message – a message that is impossible to maintain in the practice of the daily grind. And that’s just a normal, if unfortunate, fact of leading a busy life.
The challenge is to keep the lesson I learned throughout my life – one rooted in the importance of each individual’s story – somewhere in the background of every interaction and every conversation. The challenge is to recognize those moments that remind me of the significance of Dad’s message and what it meant to the lives he touched.
Recently, my mom and I received an invitation to attend a homecoming night event at St. Joe high school. For those unaware, St. Joe is the Catholic school in Fremont, and they planned to celebrate the 35th anniversary of one of their football teams reaching the state semifinals. The emcee of the event informed Mom and me that Dad played a pivotal role in this night coming together, and he hoped we could attend. Though Mom and I weren’t certain what we were in for, we made sure we were present.
Last Friday, a small crowd gathered in St. Joe’s cafeteria. A liquor license ensured that cans of beer would circulate through the audience. Conversations between old friends – some who see each other regularly and some who only enjoy such company on special occasions – filled the cafe. Mom and I sat towards the rear of the sea of silver and crimson that dominated the room.
They announced each member of the team. A former player and the head coach shared a few memories of the season. Meanwhile, Mom and I remained curious as to why our presence had been requested.
Then, at the conclusion of the ceremony, the emcee – the man who had invited us to the event – shared with the crowd a thank you. As his story went, he and Dad had a conversation in 1993 where Dad had asked him to share something important, something consequential from his life. They spoke that evening about football and what that high school season meant to those involved so many years before. For the next 17 years, every time Dad and this man crossed paths, Dad urged him to pull his old team together and celebrate their triumphs together.
Finally, in October 2010, they spoke for what would be the final time. Dad asked, “so when are you gonna tell that story. When are you gonna share it?” As things turned out, plans for the celebration that occurred on Friday had recently commenced. When Dad learned of the possible event, three years before it would take place, he said he would be there to enjoy the moment when the time came.
Dad died one month later.
Mom and I learned again on Friday night how Dad’s faith in the importance of each person’s story caused a chain of events that brought old and current friends together. We learned how one simple request– tell me your story – led to an important night.
For me, Friday was a reminder that all of us have something important to share. It reinforced a lesson I learned throughout my life: everyone has a story that counts and that story counts because of the people who lived and enjoyed the moment.