Telling his story

Posted on Wednesday 29 July 2009

We met for the first time at a small coffee shop near my house. A mutual friend had suggested we would be good for one another. He seemed kind and respectful as we spoke by phone to set up the meeting, and neither of us bothered to describe ourselves to the other the way you might if meeting a stranger for the first time – a thought that occurred to me only as I topped the steps that morning and reached for the door.
The shop was not crowded, but I would have known him if it had been standing room only. He was the white haired gentleman in pressed khakis and a golf shirt, smiling up from his half-drunk mug, and a pristine folder stuffed with pages.
“If they asked me, I could write a book…” the old Rodgers and Hart song goes, “about the way you walk and whisper, and look.” And he had. About her.
He was a retired physician; she a nurse. They were married nearly 62 years, and raised five children who gave them a dozen grandchildren, and three great-grands. He had written the story of the lives together, and he wanted someone to help him make it sing. He hoped that someone was me.
I’ve only helped “birth” one or two memoir-styled books. Usually they are vanity pieces, whose author believes they are exceptional, and publishable. He had no such aspirations. He simply wanted to tell their story, and to make it readable for their family, known and yet to be. I had read every page before our meeting, secretly hoping to find in them a good reason to say no to the project. I never did.
As we talked, he occasionally opened the folder to pull a paragraph or a picture or two, or he simply patted it lightly with one hand. I knew that inside that folder was the story of their first date – he a sophomore and she a senior – and that he sold a pint of blood to afford a taxi, corsage, and dinner before the dance. His eyes teared up more than once. He apologized after about the third time: “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m still grieving.” Then, “I want everyone who reads this to get her – to see how wonderful she was.” I told him that he had already achieved his objective; it was clear from the first few words.
So I said yes. Yes to helping him shape and hone the words he’d written. But he needed no help telling their story, with words on a page, or otherwise. Anyone with half a heart could see it in a glance. He was still a man in love. And he wore it very well.
“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of the truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.” (I Corinthians 13: 1-4-7, The Message)

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