"When an old person dies, it's as if a library has burned down."
- African proverb.
People's life stories are often amazing, marked by surprises, poignant memories, moments of humor or insight, and accounts of courage and resilience, as well as regrets sometimes. It can be inspiring to hear or read these stories, and it can also be inspiring for people to tell their own stories. For in doing so, they often realize how much richness their lives have contained, often contradicting the negative feelings they may have held about themselves.
An oral history is a series of interviews resulting in a written record of the subject's life. When it is done well, an oral history treats each person's life with the care and respect it deserves. Each of us is unique, a precious being, no matter how much we have or haven't accomplished. An oral history gives each person the opportunity to see his or her life in a full way, with all its detail and complexity. In our modern, technological society, where so many people live such busy lives, caught up in constant doing, few allow themselves the gift of reflecting deeply on their lives. But when people get older and tend to be less busy, that is a good time to give themselves, their family, and friends the benefit of this reflection.
When people tell their oral histories, it's often a great gift for their children and grandchildren, enabling them to learn more about their own background, as the blanks of the family history get filled in. And to have these histories available as printed documents-which can be enjoyed in the moment and also passed down to future generations-is a gift of care and meaning that should not be underestimated, a permanent legacy.