Editor’s Note: The following account is basically true, in the sense that high drama has eluded the author’s life. And in the sense that the author does not have a particularly engaging personality. And in the sense that the author is pretty much forgettable. It’s not that he hasn’t experienced a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. He has. And there will be more such times. Nonetheless…
Everyone has a story to tell.
I heard that most recently from a writer at a gathering of St. Albans Writes.
“I don’t,” I said.
A lot of people do.
I could tell you about the most interesting things that have happened in my life, so technically, yeah, I have a story, but it’s not worth telling. I have no great triumphs; no spectacular failures. I have not experienced war. I have (so far) dodged personal tragedies. I have not traveled the world. I have not been in the crucible. Even the lessons I’ve learned along the road of life are not associated with intriguing vignettes that might elicit empathy.
You know the guy who throws a dart on the map or closes his eyes and picks out a name in the phone book (remember phone books?) and then goes and interviews them to learn their story? If he came to my house, it would go something like this.
“So, Joe. Tell me what it was like growing up in St. Albans.”
“It was nice. We played a lot. Rode bikes. Played in the creek.”
“What was the most traumatic thing you endured as a child?”
“I remember one time I came home from school and the front door was locked. I couldn’t get inside. That was pretty bad.”
“How long were you locked out?”
“I don’t know. Maybe five minutes.”
The clock ticks in the background. He looks at the guitar setting on the stand.
“Do you play?” he asks.
“A little. I’m really not very good.”
“Can you play something for me?”
Tick, tick, tick.
“What about your family?”
“I was found in a shoebox, brought up by welders, and educated by wolves. Then I went to Harvard.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“That’s a line from In Sunlight and In Shadow, a Mark Helprin novel. No, I’m from a conventional family. Mom, Dad, two sisters. I was a middle of the road student. At work, just a steady manager type. Been married for almost thirty years.”
He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. He taps his pen and looks around the room.
“What difficult challenges have you had to overcome in life?”
I think for a minute. “People tend to forget my name,” I say. “Sometimes they call me Jim. Or John. So I’ve had to learn not to get offended when they don’t remember me.”
He looks at his watch, but he’s not wearing one.
He leaves. The segment never airs.
I have no compelling story to tell, but I’m not complaining. I’m glad that my life has been absent of trauma and gut-wrenching challenges. Boring can be good.
If I want to tell a story, I’ll just do what I’ve always done. I’ll make one up.
Remind me some day to tell you about Albert Einstein’s brother, Alfred.