In The Power of Story: Write for Yourself, I described the benefits of writing down our narratives for ourselves.
But, writing our narratives does not just help us; these stories become gifts that we can give to our children, our siblings, our neighbors.
These stories become our legacy. The stories of our struggles, triumphs, and experiences, even the ordinary ones, show who we are, what we value, what we believe, and what we learned. Writing and sharing these stories with the ones we love and care about creates a physical bequest that will last long after we are gone.
In 2007, writer Lakshmi Pratury spoke about the importance of legacy. She said, “My father left me a legacy of his handwriting through letters and a notebook. In the last two years of his life, when he was sick, he filled a notebook with his thoughts about me. He wrote about my strengths, weaknesses, and gentle suggestions for improvement, quoting specific incidents, and held a mirror to my life… There are times when I want to trade all those years that I was too busy to sit with my dad and chat with him, and trade all those years for one hug. But too late. But that’s when I take out his letters and I read them, and the paper that touched his hand is in mine, and I feel connected to him.”
These letters Lakshmi Pratury described will live on past her, will touch the lives of children now too young to read, will tell her father’s stories even though he is no longer around to speak.
More recently a video of an 18-year-old opening a time capsule of letters her family wrote on her first birthday went viral. Among those letters, were several from people who had since died, but their words, their handwriting, their stories were there.
But our stories work during our lifetime too. Telling your children about a time you made a mistake helps them understand that it’s okay to mess up. Sharing stories about daring to do something you were afraid of helps them learn courage and risk-taking.
Our small texts and emails and negotiations over the phone will all be forgotten in a month, but the stories we write will last.
And, in taking the time on your own to write the events of your life, you bear witness to yourself, give respect and meaning to the person you were, the person you have become. We let ourselves be seen, by ourselves, by the ones we love.
Like snowballs gathering snow as they speed downhill, our stories too can become part of a larger family narrative that serves an incredibly important role.
What stories will you write to share?
Start with a list: Write down “the time that . . .” or “I’ll never forget when . . .” For now, just list ideas for 5 minutes. Then if you are inspired, pick one. Start writing that story.
Family stories are your heritage. Each family has a history that no other family has. If you’re interested in the role of storytelling in your own family legacy, download my free resource 5 Questions to Ask at the Table. By telling your stories and sharing them, you keep your history, tradition and ancestors alive, and build connection within your family and across generations.