“Tell Me a Story,” Oct. 18, 2022

People tell me all sorts of stuff. I’m not sure why. My kids used to swear I wore a sign on my back that said, “Confess.” If I did, it never seemed to work for them. But it sometimes worked for their friends.

Most of us have a story to tell, if we can find someone to listen. I’ve been writing this column for more than 30 years. It’s not an advice column. Or an opinion column. Actually, I’m not sure what kind of column it is.

Basically, I tell stories from my life. And in return, readers often write to tell me stories from their lives, too, on several pages, front and back, in longhand.

They tell me where they were born, what their childhood was like, how they grew up to be a teacher or a doctor or funeral director and if they’re happily married or happier divorced.

They describe their families, their children, grandchildren and all the people they love, even the ones they don’t like.

Most of all, they write about their joys and sorrows, loved ones they’ve lost, heartaches they’ve endured and their hopes and dreams for the future.

I love getting mail from readers. I won’t live long enough to answer it all, but I read and appreciate every word.

Stories help us understand ourselves and each other. They tell us that we are different in some ways _ where we live, how we vote, which team we pull for _ but we tend to be very much alike in matters of the heart.

Our differences may make us interesting, but sometimes drive us apart. Our feelings make us human and pull us closer. When someone tells us what’s on their heart we need to listen. It’s a gift both to the teller and the told.

There was a time not so long ago when I could walk into a waiting room or stand in line at a grocery store or take a seat on an airplane and strike up a conversation with a stranger.

These days, it’s not quite that easy. Instead of making eye contact, people are often staring at cell phones. And wearing masks. But it can still be done.

I begin by offering a few pleasantries to make a connection, then gradually work around to the magic question: “Where are you from?”

That can be the opening of a really good story, where it all begins. I try to sense whether someone wants to talk or to be left alone. I never press. Except with family or friends.

If a story wants to be told, it’s hard to shut it up. You just open the door and get out of the way.

Once on an airport escalator, I asked an elderly man behind me what brought him to town?

He looked at me for a bit, as if weighing his answer.

“I came to say goodbye to an old friend,” he said. “She’s dying with cancer.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

He nodded and took a deep breath. “She was the love of my life,” he said. “I should’ve married her 50 years ago.”

At the top of the escalator, I hugged him. He smiled and we went our separate ways. I don’t know if he needed to tell me that story. But I needed to hear it.

Looking back on that day, I often wonder, what if everyone we meet on an escalator or anywhere in the world has a story they need to tell?

Loneliness is not just having no one to talk to. We can be surrounded by people, talking nonstop. But if we never get to share what’s on our hearts and tell the stories we long to tell, we can feel completely alone.

Would you like to make the world a little better place? Here are five easy ways to start:

1. Put down your cell phone.
2. Smile into someone’s eyes.
3. Ask simple questions.
4. Listen to the answers.
5.Be willing to tell your story.

Despite what my kids claim, I never wear a sign on my back. You don’t need to wear one, either. Unless you want to.

If you did, what would it say?


  1. Judi Taylor says

    My 101-year-old mother-in-law, Joyce, loves your stories and looks forward to reading them every week. Since the newspaper that ran your column is no longer printed and she is technologically challenged, I print your column each week and take it to her assisted-living facility. She often shares lines from your stories with her tablemates, family members and strangers. You remain a ray of sunshine in her week while so many things she used to enjoy are no longer a part of her life. She and we are thankful for you and for your sharing and caring.

  2. Vickie Garrison says

    My daughter always says, “Mom! You don’t need to talk to everybody!”
    People are interesting and usually willing to respond. It’s a compulsion
    of mine to talk to strangers. I simply enjoy it!

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    “Most of all, they write about their joys and sorrows, loved ones they’ve lost, heartaches they’ve endured and their hopes and dreams for the future”

    And that is because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery 😜

  4. W& there are e are an old couple with many health problems & I get lonesome for someone to talk to. My dear husband is one of 8 & 5 are left. This family did not talk. I am a big talker & thankfully my mother-in-law was someone I could talk to & get advice from. We have 4 living children and 1 dear little girl who is with Jesus. They are all busy with their families so they rarely call or come to visit. I love reading your life stories. I was raised in a verbally & physically place. I have so much I want to talk about, but the people who were my friends have all died. On the rare occasion someone calls, I talk way too much so my spouse says. Wish you lived close, I think we could talk for hours and enjoy it. Keep writing please. I always enjoy your stories. God bless & keep you.

  5. Katie Musgrave says

    When your latest column pops up on Facebook, I smile. You bring joy to me & many. Your life stories are like many of ours. We can relate. I am sure we would have been best friends. Actually, I do consider you a friend. You have taken the time to reply to my comments about your columns on several occasions. I especially remember your note to me after my husband died. You are kind and a good listener. One day your kids will praise your tender heart & loving listening. God Bless you!

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