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Jane Iddings: All stories matter -- even (and especially) yours

Jane Iddings
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Everyone has life stories to tell. These stories are important, special, and interesting precisely because they are your stories.

Maybe they’re about learning to fly a kite, taking your first train ride, moving to a new country or city, surviving a tragedy or an illness, participating in a groundbreaking surgical procedure, being present for your granddaughter’s birth or your father’s death, or waking up on a misty morning in your ancestral Indian, Chinese, or Greek village.

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Maybe you were an ordinary person doing an ordinary job that turned momentarily into an extraordinary moment, and that extraordinary moment turned into an unforgettable life story.

Here are two such stories.

One day in a memoir-writing class that I was teaching, a quiet woman in a wheelchair read to us her riveting story about the summer of 1969 when she, a young college student, worked as a typist at the Space Center in Houston. Often she would see soon-to-be famous astronauts including Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. During the moonshot that July, she and other typists transcribed the conversations between Mission Control and the Apollo 11 spacecraft. It became her task to transcribe the voice of Neil Armstrong as he famously said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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I wrote my husband’s work stories for his 70th birthday. One stood out: as a young Coast Guardsman, he was assigned to a lighthouse on New York’s Long Island Sound. One quiet Sunday morning he waved over to the lighthouse an older man who was silently paddling by in his kayak. The young man gave the older man a tour of the lighthouse. A few questions were asked; brief explanations were provided. At the end of the tour, the two men sat down to share a cup of freshly-brewed coffee. The young Coast Guardsman offered his name. The older man responded with his: Charles Lindbergh. Charles Lindbergh? The famous aviator who first soloed across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to France? Yes.

Some stories are heartwarming, while others are heart-wrenching. All matter. By writing them down you can preserve your stories for your families. You can share them with friends so they have more than a superficial sense of you. Most importantly, your written stories can help you to understand and appreciate how these events shaped you and your life, and, in some cases, they may provide welcome healing.

Once you start writing your life stories, you’ll get hooked just as I am. As a volunteer, I lead story writing groups, write neighbors’ biographies, and teach 13-week memoir-writing classes which I’ll be offering this fall at 125 Live in Rochester.

What about online resources? There are many including one company that gives you 52 writing prompts over 52 weeks, and then conveniently binds your stories in a book.

Many people have questions about writing their life stories. Ask me yours and I’ll answer them as best I can.

Jane Iddings, a retired lawyer, newspaper columnist, and memoir-writing teacher, encourages people to write their life stories.

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Highlights of events in 1997, 1972, 1947 and 1922.
Highlights of events in 1997, 1972, 1947 and 1922.