One of our neighbors is in his 90’s, and he continues to surprise us. Sometimes we see him walking around on his roof (doing repairs?), or sweeping leaves off the street that were blown in from a storm. His garden thrives. Certainly there are secrets to be learned from such a man?

In Japan, the elderly outnumber the young, and there are opportunities to soak up wisdom and experience that go largely overlooked. There are stories to be heard, too.

It reminds me of when I worked at a skilled nursing and residential facility in the U.S. When I assisted residents to and from their rooms or visited with them, I gazed at the black-and-white portraits on the walls, committing the youthful faces to memory. I asked questions about the photos. This was how I wanted to remember each of the seniors I interacted with – I wanted to remember their stories.

Now the questions again stir in my mind: who is she related to? What did he do for a living? When did they plant those trees? I want to imagine the wholeness of the personhood of my acquaintances.. not only what’s left when dewy complexions fade, and feet begin to shuffle.

Living in an aged community brings to light the importance of stories: in knowing people’s backgrounds, beliefs, what brought them here, and who they are now. But, we certainly don’t have to wait until someone is elderly to ask questions.

Storytelling is a not a lost art. However, at times it seems that it is not a very thriving one. There are lots of “stories” on social media to watch, but what about sharing what’s behind the pictures and videos? Lots of content gets consumed, but what about room for conversation?

Some people manage to weave their stories well into their social media, but many of us don’t. It’s hard.

There has been a big shift in culture recently (especially within the last 5-7 years or so) away from sharing through writing, and more toward the visual. This is something I resisted a great deal at first.

Slowly, I’ve accepted that the trend is not going away quickly. I started sharing more photos and videos with friends, in an attempt to communicate in a way that is culturally acceptable. But, I suppose you can’t change an “old soul”. I need words, desperately.

My husband, who is more extroverted than me, is less of a reader. Coming from the literary educational background that I did, marrying someone who doesn’t especially enjoy reading sounds almost comical. But, Masashi loves words. Rather than reading people’s stories in books and on blogs, he converses easily until words spill out of people, almost unintentionally.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has ended up crying after sharing their story with my husband. He is a natural-born counselor, even if that’s not his line of work.

I think the key to why people feel comfortable to share with him is that he is so open. There is nothing hidden. He has no agenda. But, he is a natural at sharing stories, truths, laughter, and pain. Even better, he is good at listening. Both of us are bad at small talk – but switch to a topic that’s deeper, and we can share for hours.

Whether penned or spoken, stories need a space to exist, and be heard. For every story, we also need listeners, and readers. We need people willing to ask questions: what does this picture mean? What happened? Where are you at now in life? 

There are stories: in people, in you. This week, I’m feeling the importance of asking questions, and writing things down. Of saying something. Our souls are meant to speak.

Do you have a story that needs sharing? 

Feel free to leave a comment below.