How Will They Know?

Today I witnessed via a live television broadcast and with tears in my eyes an historic event … the inauguration of President Barack Obama. As I listened to his address to the nation and the world, I thought, “How will I tell my grandchildren about this great day?” How will they know? 

During the videotaping of the LifeStories I record with LifeStories Alive, I ask a number of times questions about important dates in history; the stock market crash of October 1929, Pearl Harbor Day (December 7, 1941), the John F. Kennedy assassination. I ask questions that ask them to describe how they heard the news, where they were when it happened, and how it felt. Know this: your ancestors will ask you the same questions about today … where you were, how it felt, etc.. How will they know?

How will they know if you pretend you’ll remember all the details?

How will they know if you think they won’t ask?

How will they know if you don’t record it?

The answer is simple … they will know. They will know if you take a few minutes to record it. It’s easy. You can do it. Here’s how: the minute you finish reading this blog, take out a piece of paper and just start writing. Or turn on your camcorder or digital audio recorder and start talking.

I personally like the written word in your own handwriting. No one will care if it’s neat, or with proper grammar,  or even if it makes sense. They will only care that it’s done by you, in your hand, with your thoughts … for them. That’s how they’ll know.

And, when they are in the senior years of their lives, when someone offers to capture and preserve their LifeStories, when asked about you and the kind of person you were, they will proudly take out the hand-written note that you wrote today, smile and say, “This is how I know.”

Perceiving Beauty

This is another story I’m passing along from a fellow member of the Association of Personal Historians, Wendy Ledger:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother hurried him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother insisted and the child began to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced the children to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. 

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most noted musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the tickets averaged $100.


This is a real story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the metro station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of the general public. The precept was: in a commonplace environment at a random hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize  talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:  If we do not have a few moments to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

P.S. Here’s a link to the Washington Post story:

Paladin of the Lost Hour

I have, via an email from a fellow member of the Association of Personal Historians, Bob Milner, found a video that helps explain why we do the work we do at LifeStories Alive, and explains the importance of passing stories down to future generations.

Back in 1985 an episode of a television show, an episode of “The New Twilight Zone” aired called “Paladin of the Lost Hour”. It was co-written by the acclaimed science fiction writer Harlen Ellison. I won’t go into the plot of the story in this forum but I am placing a link below that will take you to You Tube where you can watch the episode if you wish. I watched yesterday for the first time. I ask that you to watch it and hope that you get as much out of it as I did.

 I’ll leave you with the ending narration:

“Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment. A blessing of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty: God be between you and harm in all the empty places you walk.”

Making a Difference

This past Tuesday I flew back home from a successful weekend LifeStory filming in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The filming was completed on Monday and my flight didn’t leave Tuesday until late afternoon, so I decided to contact and, if possible, visit the people who created an incredible place in Cleveland, the Ginn Academy. 

I learned about the Ginn Academy from watching my favorite TV show, CBS Sunday Morning. The piece on the Ginn Academy ( is a must-see for everyone who has thought of making a difference in the world. Please view the video. It is well done.

The moment you step into the building you know you’ve entered a special place. Not only can you physically feel the positive energy in the room, but the greeting I received from the young man who greeted me (dressed in a red coat and tie) was one that I wouldn’t expect to experience at the wealthiest high school in any city. “Good afternoon, sir. May I assist you in finding someone today?”  

My visit with the school’s Principal, Byron Lyons, was worth the entire trip. He not only told me his story, but he also explained with great admiration the story of Ted Ginn, Sr. and his dream of making a difference in the lives of as many “at risk” young men in Cleveland as possible. After our 40 minute visit, Byron introduced me to “Coach” Ginn. I knew at that moment I was where I was meant to be that day. 

In the LifeStories I capture and preserve, I hear many people talk about how they hope to have made a difference in the world. Ted Ginn, Sr. and Byron Lyons showed how incredibly powerful it is to know that you are doing just that on a daily basis. My purpose of the visit when I walked in was to see if they would let me volunteer my services to teach the young men how to capture the stories of their loved ones. As Byron and I talked, I realized the impact of what I could give became more and more varied and exciting. 

Whether or not the logistics pan out for my teaching there is yet to be determined. But of this I am certain; we can each make a difference in the lives of others. All it takes is a dream and the willingness and desire to make that dream come true.