This expression recently came to life for me. Not about this project at large, but in the moment.
A few weeks ago I was an exhibitor at the Successful Aging Expo in San Diego. It was a great experience and fun opportunity to share Eternal Roots with the public, showing how I preserve life stories through recorded interviews. I had sign-in sheets on the table for people seeking more information. I emailed everyone on the list, and did a round of follow up calls last weekend. I set up at the table in my back yard, where the reception is better, plugged in my earpiece and got to work. Midway through the list my 8-year old daughter Julia joined me outside, curious to watch. She sat on the table before me and quietly observed.
After several successive voicemails, a gentleman answered. I remembered him from the Expo, as I had an asterisk beside his name on the list. He wore a leather vest bearing several patches indicating he was a veteran. He approached our table and my wife Nicole, who manned the booth with me, extended her hand and thanked him for his service. He asked about our project, and as I explained the Eternal Roots concept, I flipped through the transcribed book of my grandfather that was on display. I turned to a page of my grandfather in his Air Force uniform, at age 21, and said he shared some experiences from serving in WWII. Our visitor responded that he lost his entire platoon in Vietnam, then his voice broke off and he looked to the side to compose himself. It was obvious that he never discusses Vietnam, especially with total strangers. This was the most emotionally intense moment of the day, among several. I responded that during the interview process I would never inquire into combat experience, and he would have complete control over the subject matter discussed. While I am not a veteran myself, I have enough sense to never directly inquire about combat experience. He submitted his info on the sign-in sheet, took a brochure, and moved on.
This exchange really affected me. The intensity of this man's response, and his sudden recall of the horrors he witnessed in Vietnam, drove home the importance and gravity of this project. This is real. I'm recording real experiences of real people and their stories can be uncomfortable at times. One minute this man was strolling through an expo, collecting brochures and swag from financial and estate planners, dentists and funeral homes, then he encounters me and has sudden recall of losing his platoon 40 years ago. I had to step back and process all this for a moment.
Fast forward to follow up calls in my backyard, with Julia silently observing. I was acutely aware of her presence, and wanted to demonstrate a strong work ethic. The veteran answered the phone, I reminded him of how we met, and asked if he received my email. He said he was unavailable to talk at the moment, but that he did receive my email, and he did not respond because he was not interested. He wasn't rude, just matter of fact. I thanked him for his candor and ended the call. I have experience in direct sales and have received more than my share of No's. I understand rejection is seldom personal. However, he was my most salient memory from the Expo, and I wanted to record his story. I was prepared to offer my service pro bono.
For a moment I felt deflated and dejected. Eternal Roots is my baby, so it can be hard to separate myself at times. I suddenly felt inclined to wrap it up, rationalizing that I had done enough, even though I had more people to call. Then I looked up and locked eyes with Julia. She asked what happened, and this had to become a teachable moment. I can't let her watch me quit after facing some adversity. I explained to Julia that my service isn't for everyone. Some people don't want to share their story and it can be painful for people to remember some experiences. Some people say No, and I have to move on to the next person because there are people out there who want to preserve their life stories.
With Julia observing, I had to silence the excuses being manufactured in my mind and demonstrate resiliency. The next person on my list answered and received my call favorably. She said she was "very much interested" in having me interview her husband. Had I stopped calling after getting that No, this husband's story might have gone untold, and my daughter would have absorbed an unhealthy message.
The parallels between this experience and the meme above require no explanation. This event has become part of Julia's life story, and I hope the lesson stays with her.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.