Stories and histories


There are stories everywhere. You could probably walk down the street and the first person you meet will have some fascinating story to tell. Of course, they might not reveal the story to you if you ask them. 

Sometimes, I know the gist of a story, and have to track down the people who were involved in order to get the details. Sometimes, someone emails me with a story idea, and helps me to understand it, either as an anonymous source or on the record. Sometimes, I think I am writing one story and then it turns out that I was completely wrong and have to write a different story about what really happened.

But my favorite kind of story by far is the kind of story that I discovered when I met Carl Griffin, who works at Plymouth Christian Youth Center in North Minneapolis. I really didn’t know much about Griffin when we met a few weeks ago. It turns out that he’s led a remarkable life. Growing up in the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul as it was being divided to make room for I-94, he was, as a high school student, involved in civil rights efforts. Later in his life, he marched for GLBT rights at Loring Park, and was involved as the Star Tribune included GLBT issues in its anti-discrimination policy.

It just goes to show that you never know what you are going to find when you start talking to someone, especially in such an open format as the Minnesota Voices series, which is basically saying — “Hey, tell us about yourself.” 

I wonder, is it just part of the nature of getting older? You just naturally accumulate stories? I think that’s part of it. Of course, the longer you live, the more experiences you have. 

When I was in grade school, I had a very wise teacher who made us ask one of our grandparents for stories from the past. I wrote to my grandmother, and I am forever grateful that I was able to know some of those stories while she was still alive. I wish that I had also spoken to my grandfather before he passed away, and to other relatives.

In some ways, it’s easier to ask someone who isn’t a family member about the past. A stranger doesn’t carry with them any of the emotional politics that come with families. In any case, it’s becoming clearer to me how important it is to remember those stories. We really have no excuse not to, with all the technology at our disposal. Unlike the past, when history was written only by the few, it is much more possible now to get multiple perspectives, not just about presidents and wars, but about real people who are living their regular lives everyday, and whose experiences intersect with what we call history.