There’s a great line in Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help, that jumped out at me the first time I read it and probably does the same for other people who pursue personal history. It’s from the character Minnie, a brashly reluctant but ultimately willing informant for Miss Skeeter. (I advise a reading, if you haven’t yet.) Minnie says: “Every time we meet, I complain. I moan. I get mad and throw a hot potato fit. But here’s the thing: I like telling my stories. It feels like I’m doing something about it. When I leave [the storytelling sessions], the concrete in my chest is loosened, melted down so I can breathe for a few days.”
A perfect capsule of words that tell why we do what we do in personal history. People WANT to tell their stories, want to loosen the concrete in their chests, even if they tell you their lives are too unimportant to share. The act of storytelling is a relief, an unburdening. And the act of listening, receiving, and committing those stories to the page (or the tape or the film) means that our willing ears are our best tools. The gathering and producing of these stories translates into honoring the storytellers. It doesn’t get much better or simpler than that.