Stories of Our Lives This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 21, 2011
My grandmother hid in empty rice sacks to escape from the Japanese soldiers so she wouldn't get raped. But in the midst of hiding, she saw her father brutally murdered by the soldiers and her younger brothers kidnapped. She never saw them again.

This is all I know about the mother of my father. So, when I heard the news at seven that she had died, I couldn't help but feel indifferent. I had maybe seen her three times in my life since she lived five thousand miles away. When I spoke to her on the phone, our conversation was limited to questions you would ask someone you had just met: what grade I was in, how the weather was, what I liked to do in my spare time. I felt more comfortable talking to a random stranger on the street than her.

It's been ten years since my grandmother died, and there is no way for me to learn more about her. My father and his brothers also knew very little about her past, and my grandfather doesn't talk about her. During elementary and middle school I was always envious of my friends because they could easily talk to their grandparents and knew so much about their past.

But I found a way to satisfy that longing in freshman year. My brother and his friends were singing for residents at our local assisted-living home, and I tagged along. While I was waiting in the lobby I talked to a resident for nearly two hours about everything: where she grew up, her family, her first job, how she met her husband – even about her stamp collection. She said that no one ever came to visit her since her siblings had died and her children lived far away. When I got home I couldn't stop thinking about her; all week I thought about Mary's life story and her eagerness to talk, something she rarely had the chance to do. To thank Mary for telling me her story, I decided to make her a scrapbook. It didn't take long, but when I gave it to her she thanked me and began to cry.

Mary's gratitude made me want to give other seniors the chance to share their lives with me. I wanted as many seniors' life stories to be heard and not disappear like my grandmother's had. So every week I interviewed residents, then spent hours creating their scrapbooks. I loved seeing how thrilled they were when I gave them their books. Each time I visited, even the residents who had trouble remembering where their rooms were recognized me and thanked me.

To share this experience with as many people as possible, I invited my friends and students from nearby high schools and colleges to help me. Many of the students have thanked me for introducing them to this project, which I call “Stories of Our Lives.” This activity teaches young people to take a break from their hectic schedules to just listen. The seniors often tell me that they look forward to our visits because their only other visitors are physical therapists and a relative once or twice a year.

For me, “Stories of Our Lives” has been a way to fulfill my wish to know more about my grandmother. Though her story is lost to me, I like to think that she wouldn't want these seniors' stories to disappear too. Hearing about their lives ultimately helps us create better stories of our own lives.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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