Ask and You Just Might Receive, Feb. 21, 2012

Maybe next time I will tell you about the hundreds (or millions, I can’t say for sure, because at some point I lost count) of birthday cards that arrived this week addressed to me and the “Birthday Boy.”
That would be my husband, whose birthday (a big one, as I noted in a recent column) fell 10 days before mine.
For now, I just want to thank you for sending all those kind wishes and to assure you that I will personally open and read them all, provided I live, Lord willing, long enough.
They were deeply appreciated by both my husband and me, if not so much by certain postal workers, who had every right to curse my name as they kept stuffing them into my box.
(Note: My husband thinks it would be fun to post a photo on my website of me buried in a big pile of birthday cards. What do you think? I think maybe he needs to get out more often.)
Birthday wishes and thanks aside, I want to get something off my chest, and I don’t mean a pile of greeting cards.
Included in the birthday mail was a letter from a woman who said she had led an interesting life, and wondered if I would help her write her life story.
That was not unusual. I often get such requests. It’s an honor to think someone would trust me to write his or her life story.
(I also receive a steady flow of self-published memoirs that I unfortunately will never be able to read, edit, comment on in any way, or return.)
But my standard reply to such requests is that, as much as I’d like to help, I have stories of my own to tell and too little time to tell them. People always seem to understand that. But it never stops me from feeling as if I’ve somehow let them down.
I hate letting people down. My children say I worry too much about what people think. I don’t think so. What do you think?
Anyhow, I wasn’t bothered by the woman’s request. What bothered me was the irony of what happened as I read it.
I have a weekly ritual: After picking up a batch of reader mail at the post office, I like to take it to a restaurant, spread it out on the table and read all I can over lunch. The servers give me funny looks that make me wonder if they’ve been talking to the postal workers. Whatever.
Just as I finished the letter from the reader who asked for help telling her stories, I noticed a couple at a booth nearby. He was talking. She was listening. When he’d stop to take a bite, she’d begin to speak. Then he’d swallow, cut her off, and start talking again. This went on for 40 minutes. She seldom got to finish a sentence. He never asked her a question.
Doesn’t he know, I thought, that she has stories, too?
As they rose to go, he helped her into her coat and took her arm. Passing my table, they smiled and I smiled back.
Watching them leave, I wondered: Were they in love? Were they happy? They certainly seemed close.
Sometimes the people we’re closest to are the hardest, in some ways, for us to see.
The person you married years ago. The brother who never has much to say. The friend who’s always there if you need her. The grandpa who once fought for his country and now fights just to stay awake. The good little girl who worries too much about what people think.
We all have stories that tell who we are, what we love and hate and fear and hope, things we’re willing to live and die for.
To love someone is to want to hear all their stories, and to be blessed to tell yours in return.
Whose stories haven’t you heard? Don’t assume you know them. Keep asking questions. The answers may surprise you.


  1. One of the things I enjoy about my boyfriend’s family is that they spend time sharing stories. I think this happens more if we give technology (the TV, for example) a rest and give rockers and swings a push. You are right, they are an important part of relating and connecting as well as gathering wisdom. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Carol in Indiana says

    Your children are right. You should never worry about letting people down. You certainly have never let me down. I have a circle of friends who also read your column regularly and feel the same as I do. I am certain that with every column you write, memories are recalled in vivid detail to people across this country. You reach out and touch people’s lives in a remarkable way. If people read your columns very carefully, they would most likely learn something about the fine art of weaving a story. Thank you again for sharing your life with us.

  3. Carla Willis says

    Love all your columns, they always bring a tear to my eye…tore it out to send you a card but never got it done….maybe I will get a wild hair and pick something funny out to send you on a random day. I am a new grammie as well and LOVE reading your insights on the grandbabies. I never dreamed being a grandparent was going to be this fun!! People watching, just noticing others, can be such a great inspiration. Thanks for being such a beautiful voice out there!

  4. I guess I need to get out more often too because I would love to see the picture. Your husband seems like a fun guy.

    I’m also a little sad to hear you receive too many memoirs to read because my mother reads your column and directed me to this site with the hope that I could send you my book. (Sleepy P.I., plug, plug, plug. 😉 It’s doing well enough on its own, but lacking a publisher, an agent or a marketing budget beyond my own spending money, it could be doing better.

    If it’s all the same to you, I’ll send it anyway. I have a few spare copies lying around. And if it dies unopened on a pile of unread memoirs, I promise I won’t be hurt.

  5. Nicely done. This one really made me stop and think….thank you girlfriend. Hope your birthday was wonderful. Wish I could join you in that coffee shop and share a cuppa.
    Grits and Peas

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