Because I obsessively check Facebook and Twitter, I’m rarely late to any cultural phenomena. Occasionally this is good, often this is bad, and usually it’s annoying for those around me.
But I was late to the party with Humans of New York.
Actually, I had heard about this … site? Tumblr? Facebook phenom? … ages ago through people I follow on Twitter who actually live in New York, namely my best Twitter friend who I’ve never met, the Broadway lyricist and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda. But I chose not to pursue it further because a girl only has so much time. I only have so much time, people! Give me a break!
But recently someone on Facebook liked this photo and it popped up in my Newsfeed. The photo was of a woman in a tan hat sitting on her walker, and the caption was a quote from her. She described the most exciting thing her husband had ever done as the time when they were working in the garden and he got down on his knees and asked her to marry him. She said, “At this point, we had already been married for 35 years.”
And I had to click the Like button.
With that, I start getting these micro-stories on my news feed. A few times a day, a picture comes up of someone on the streets on New York. It’s often a beautiful portrait of them sitting on a park bench, on a stoop, outside a bodega. These people are lovely and unique, in whatever clothes they wore to work or out walking the dog that day.
Along with the photo is a snippet of a conversation, usually in question and answer format. The questions are rarely the same, but the answers always give an insight into the person’s perspective or existence. It’s never more than a snippet, a glance into the life of a person both normal and extraordinary.
I wonder who I’ve missed out on hearing and seeing, all of these Humans of New York with their fascinating stories and lives, because I didn’t click that Like button.
It’s the same feeling I get from StoryCorp, a partner of NPR, that sends people into a recording booth with someone they love to tell their everyday life stories. These are just normal people: teachers, garbage men, factory workers. Yet none of the stories are ordinary. Each person all has stories filled with tension, release, and value. Their stories will be archived in New York City, as part of a compilation of what America is like right now, and some have been transcripted into books that are worth reading.
This, this right here, is what I believe in, more than I can express to you, more than I can possibly say. That everyone’s story is worth hearing, and everyone’s story has value. Everyone has a story, a beautiful painful story of love and loss and joy.
It’s why I study literature: to hear a story and learn about you and us and this world. It’s why I write: to tell my story and the stories around me. And it’s why I teach writing: to tell others that their stories need to be spoken, that they are worth telling and they deserve to be heard.
Your story deserves to be told. So tell it to someone. Write it down. Give it to a child, a spouse. And better yet, listen to the stories around you. Everyone needs to be heard. There are amazing stories out there, amazing fantastic individuals who have had amazing fantastic lives. You never know who you’re sitting next to.
Until you ask for a story.