“No one ever asked me what it felt like to be me.”
Those are the words of Aibileen, one of the maids who agree to tell their compelling personal stories for the eye-opening, courageous book that emerges within the plot of the new movie “The Help.” I have not read the novel yet, but I saw the movie last night. It’s a compelling slice of life capturing the emerging Civil Rights spirit of the early 1960s. I thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by the movie in that regard. As a personal historian and memoir ghostwriter at Life Is a Book who interviews women and men from all walks of life to write their life story, I also came away from seeing “The Help” with a reminder of how empowering and uplifting it is for anyone to have the opportunity to share their stories with someone who really wants to know.
Often it feels as if the greatest gift I offer my life-story clients is simply to show up and, like Skeeter in “The Help,” demonstrate a curiosity and a healthy respect for what the other person has lived through, how it has shaped them, and what they really have to tell others about it all. Sometimes that life experience is dramatic, both personally and within the context of a major historical event such as a war. Sometimes it has the rawness, pain, or vulnerability conveyed by those maids. But the impact of having a witness to a part of their life story is evident even when my clients are telling me something not so headline-grabbing dramatic: a decision to leave home at 18; where they went on their first date with their spouse; what they learned the first time they got in trouble, etc. Often they inform me after our interview that a story they just recounted in great detail to me was something they hadn’t thought about for years because “no one ever asked me about it.” And now that I asked, they discovered they had a great deal to tell! Through the telling, they uncovered thoughts, feelings, and insights that made them feel somehow better about themselves. More complete. More understanding. More alive.
So if you have already seen “The Help” or plan to do so soon, I invite you to consider this as one of many valuable take-aways. Are you yearning to tell your story? Is it time to call upon a personal historian or memoir ghostwriter to ask you those questions about what it’s like to be you? Or is there someone in your family, or someone else you care about, who may be uplifted and empowered by you sitting down with them to ask them to share the stories of their lives? The rewards of being in the seat of Aibileen or Skeeter in the life-story interview process can be equally as rich and rewarding.
– Kevin Quirk, personal historian, memoir ghostwriter and author of Life Is a Book – And it’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story