Listening is an Act of Love, A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project by Dave Isay. StoryCorps is among the most significant and far-reaching accomplishments of any Friends Seminary Alum. In addition to the many uplifting, heart wrenching and captivating stories in this volume, there is the bonus of a history of StoryCorps, how it came about and how it evolved.
In case you are not familiar with StoryCorps, here are two links. One is an animation taken from a selection of stories in this book and one is a TED talk given by Dave. https://storycorps.org/animation/listening-is-an-act-of-love/
Reading these stories feels a bit like eaves dropping, only in this case, the speakers know they will be overheard. They tell a friend or child or spouse or StoryCorps facilitator stories which are fundamental to who they are in a booth where they are recorded. One copy of the recording will go to the Library of Congress. Sometimes the stories have been hidden for decades.
We learn that there is something extraordinary at the heart of ordinary life. I guarantee these stories will make you cry and also make you reconsider some of the negative thoughts you may have had about our species. Consider the bus driver whose elderly passenger tells him she is going to meet friends at a restaurant on City Island Avenue, but she doesn’t know which one. He takes the trouble to check out every restaurant and finally does find her friends. She tells him that she has been diagnosed with cancer, but that this is the best day of her life because he made her feel like Cinderella.
Something I found remarkable was how these everyday citizens find vivid, haunting words to convey their feelings. A woman suffering the worst effects of chemo looks at her husband who has somehow miraculously managed to make her laugh. “. . . you were radiating love out of your face at me. It was like shining a light on me. I felt like I was looking into the sun.”
Many of the stories concern the intersection of these lives with large historic events – World War II, Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggle, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11 and Katrina. History becomes very real when we see its impact on individuals. A real person saw a plane crash into the building where his fiancée worked, a healthcare worker struggled through days when water flowed into the hospital, a veteran of World War II still sees the face of the beautiful young German he was forced to kill, a mother tells her daughter of how she was denied the right to vote but still persisted.
The events people encounter sometimes change the entire trajectory of their life. A woman who survived a plane crash reflects on the randomness of life. She cannot think that she was “meant to live” because what would that mean for those who died? Random things, good or bad, happen, but this book shows that what truly matters is the response of the human spirit and that, as the subtitle states, is worth celebrating.