For as long back as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. When I was young, I used to write wild and fantastical stories. My mom thought they were brilliant. My dad wasn’t so sure.
The stories were about everything from made-up monsters to my dad hunting rats. In my defense, that last one came after a girl in my class bragged about her dad’s hunting prowess. To me, hunting rats seemed a logical response at the time. The teacher—and my father—disagreed. It was a darn good story, though, so I kept on writing.
Over the years, I went from writing about things in my head to things I witnessed, experienced, and learned. The world was full of its own fantastical stories just waiting to be told. Every day, people are doing both extraordinary and ordinary things in extraordinary ways. And I wanted to share those stories with everyone. I scribbled down tales my grandparents and relatives would tell me.
I would incessantly ask questions. My sisters said I was nosy, but I just wanted to hear people’s stories and learn what makes them tick. My mantra was and still is: Everyone has a story just waiting to be told. And chances are that story will touch someone else’s life.
Finding My Niche
It wasn’t until I was in college, though, that I found a way to join my love of writing and my love of stories. While working on the school newspaper, I sought out those hidden stories–the ones that were less obvious and less likely to grab the front page. Oh, those big stories were exciting, and I covered them, too, but I wanted to tell stories that no one else had unearthed yet. I wanted to find the story of a student who was overcoming roadblocks set in front of him or her, a teacher who had a fascinating story from outside the classroom, or the story of a certain program’s beginnings.
It quickly became obvious that I was less a “just the facts, ma’am” journalistic type of writer and more of “sit here and tell me your story” feature writer. That was confirmed during an internship with St. Anthony Messenger magazine during my junior year. Suddenly, my eyes were looking out at a wide sea of stories just waiting to be told.
When I was offered a position at the magazine after graduation, I jumped at the chance. Twenty-six years later, I’m glad I made the jump.
During those years, I have been blessed to have written on topics from papal visits to profiles of athletes to survivors of sex trafficking and so many other topics in between. As a columnist, my family and our life has been laid bare on the magazine’s pages for over 18 years. After all, it only seems fair that if I want people to share their stories with me and trust me to tell them that I have to do the same.
One of the downfalls of being a writer, though, is that it’s hard to know who you may be touching with your words—or if you even are. Every once in a while, you get lucky enough to find out. Recently, I wrote a column about my struggles with anxiety. The response was overwhelming, ranging from people who said they recognized themselves in the column to those who simply said they were praying for and thinking of me. All because I told my story. See, stories are important.
Some of my favorite stories, though, are the ones I capture right here amongst my family. Last year, before COVID shut the world down, I sat with my dad one afternoon and looked through old photos. With each one, I asked him to tell me the story about it before carefully writing his words down, capturing them for all times.
One photo I pulled out was from when he was in the Korean War. It showed him standing atop a tank that apparently had slid down a hill. The story that accompanied the picture was even better. Apparently, he was responsible for the tank being where it was. He recounted the whole event to me. I sat entranced in his story.
Then, a few months ago, after my dad passed away, I pulled out the pictures and began to look through them again. When I came across the above-mentioned picture, I flipped it over and found the story I had written in pencil on the back.
At the end were these two lines: “How did you get it out?” I must have asked. His response, “With great difficulty.”
What’s Your Story?
You’ve heard about my story—and part of my dad’s—but do you ever stop and think about your story? You should, because it’s important. You have something to tell the world, to teach the world, to share with the world. Your story, just like your fingerprint, is unlike anyone else’s, so make sure to capture it. One day you may need to recall it for someone else to write on the back of a photo or write in a book.
And, boy, is this year a good one for storytelling. So strike up a conversation at home or over Zoom and start taking notes. Someone’s definitely got a story to tell you. I can guarantee it because, if I’ve learned one thing as a writer, it’s that everyone does.
This article first appeared in the Dateline, the student newspaper for Mount St. Joseph University.