This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News. 

Give your loved ones the gift of your stories

I have a Christmas gift suggestion, dear readers. It isn’t expensive or complicated. It doesn’t require any shopping trips or special skill. Here it is: please write stories for the people in your life. Now, I’m not asking you to construct fiction, though you may if you wish. And in some families, admittedly, fiction may be less painful than reality. But if you can, sift through your life and leave a legacy of words for your children, your grandchildren, your husband or wife, even your friends.

You see, my parents have a great box full of photographs; old black and white photos, some fading Kodak prints and even Polaroids, taken when cameras were far simpler affairs, and we actually bought flash bulbs by the gross at Christmas. The box contains pictures of family and friends. There are men and women on whose laps I sat as a chubby infant, but whose voices I can never recall. There are places I was taken but which have since become lost to my conscious recollection. There are pictures. But they are empty, in a way. Faces and eyes look out from them, voices mute. Their stories, their beautiful stories lost to time.

If only every photo had a small story. If only every ancestor, 50 years ago or 500, had left me some recollections on paper! Wouldn’t that be grand? Imagine how wonderful it would be if every family had a book!

These days, it’s remarkably easy to publish a book yourself, and have both the electronic file and the hard copy available. I did this years ago, with my book ‘Cats Don’t Hike,’ which was a collection of columns I had written about life with my wife and children. Not many people purchased it. That didn’t really matter. But my kids? They still read it. They still ask me, ‘did I really do that?’ And they laugh and put it away for later. Some stories they ‘treasure in their hearts,’ as Mary did the events of the nativity.

We are deluded by electronics. We believe that they will store our memories as effectively as our images. They may, as long as we live, and our minds are whole. But everything has a lifespan. Every video can be erased; every CD crushed; every hard-drive wiped clean. Books and paper, of course, burn and rot. Brains suffer strokes, tumors, injuries and dementia. But stories live on, because no matter what medium they are recorded on, they can be told and retold, memorized and passed down by people who love the story-teller.

Our smart phones and digital cameras, our iPads and assorted devices generally do a nice job with images and sounds; but not with context. Only story can tell…the whole story. Only when we take the time, when we stop texting nonsense and looking up ridiculous websites, only when we glance up from tiny screens and the tiny ideas represented can we realize and record the wonders that our lives held for so long. Only then can we dedicate ourselves to passing on the riches of our lives, so that other lives will be that much richer; other lives related to our own by the bonds of genetics, or simple friendship.

So please, get a note-book, get a pad of paper. Get a pen; get your lap-top. And write down what happend to you that mattered! Write down your passions, the way you were smitten by your spouses, swept away by your newborns. Give your dear ones a story, a dozen stories, a note, a letter, a memoir. Give it so that they can pull it out one day and be blessed to know that they are not alone, because they think like you. Blessed to know that you survived hard times too. Blessed to know that however bad life is, you loved them then and love them still…whether in time or eternity.

Christmas is a time of stories. Words, or more to the point the concept of ‘Word’ is central to the Christian story. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among men’

At this time of year, when we use words, to remember the Word (without video or photos of Him, incidentally) we should give our own stories to others as rich, poignant gifts.

The Christmas story, passed down by mouth, by song, on paper and in electronics, lives on and is as powerful now as ever. Our stories, even if minor parts of that greater one, can live on as well.

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