We sat here for 8 hours and listened to stories all day with no more than a 5 minute break in between. I’ve learned so many life lessons in those eight hours. Words can’t express how grateful I am to all those who stopped and shared their lives with us. Everyone has a story, and strangers are more alike than you’d think.
I’m sure you’ve all see the picture of a man holding up a sign that says “Tell me your story, and I’ll give you one dollar.” It’s something that struck both me and my friend Natalie (alwayshungryhoe.tumblr.com) as something very moving. One day we decided that we should attempt to execute his idea. We went to the national Mall in Washington DC, our backyard, and set up camp. We came with two cardboard signs and two mats to sit on. People passed by, stopped and looked, but kept going. We were nervous that no one would stop and talk to us, or that people would think we were asking for money and then write us off. One runner slowed and read our signs, but ran away. Then moments later he ran back to us, sat down, and told us his story.
As soon as he sat down to talk to us, I believe we gained the trust of other people. While I did not get to talk to him much, Natalie learned a lot from him as they have similar career goals. A young couple and their child stopped by next. The man was very forthcoming and told me his story upfront. He was young when he became the man of his household. After losing his father, he stopped playing sports because he felt no motivation to anymore. He fell into trouble in college and left school. But he figured out his life, and he told me upfront to not screw up my higher education and have to grow up the hard way. His wife was more reserved at first, but soon they both told me how they got together. They met in the eighth grade and then dated off and on from then until the end of high school. They broke up and drifted apart, but the death of his grandmother brought them together. His girlfriend came up to the funeral to pay her respects, and they stayed up talking all night and fell in love all over again. They now have a beautiful daughter who looks exactly like her grandmother.
Throughout the day we had people come up to us confused as to what we were doing, not intending to tell us their stories, but then ended up sitting and talking for a long time. Most people claimed they weren’t interesting enough or had nothing to tell, but each person who sat down had a story to tell. I met four recent college graduates who stayed and talked to me for two hours. They were hesitant at first, so I called them over and they sat down. One even had a striking resemblance to the responsible son from Arrested Development. The time I spent with them went by quickly, and they introduced me to new music and video games. Through them I was assured that college would be a good place for me, and one even fixed my broken phone. The friendship and dynamic they have is amazing, and they all have strong careers right out of college, which is something to be proud of.
I met a girl with such crippling depression but yet so much life. She’s full of amazing ideas to help women with little education find employment opportunities. Depression robs you of your confidence, I’ve learned that, and I tried my best to reassure her that it does get better. It will make you confident once you beat it, because you will be invincible. She’ll be interning in London next year and I think she has a fighting spirit that will help her find the strength to do great things. Her eyes were sad, but I could see light still in them. She’s not going to lose this fight.
I met a man, so young yet so wise that I was astounded when he told me his age. He grew up in an addiction filled home. A broken home with a yard so littered with needles he couldn’t even walk outside without shoes on. He bounced from one source of altered reality to another, first pills and then violent street fights. He told me about his last fight, the one that nearly killed him. He was fighting two guys, something he had done before, but this time they were relentless. His then girlfriend, now fiancé ran them off with a shotgun, which surprised me because she was very quiet when I met her. He was hospitalized and that was the end of his fighting. He took up martial arts as a sport and found solace in that. He’s now engaged to the girl that ran outside with a shotgun, and he’s alive because of her too. The way he spoke about her was wonderful. His eyes lit up and I felt how in love he is with her just from how he spoke. He was the only person I told my life story to all day.
We met college kids, tourists from China, boy scouts, middle schoolers, people who had been abused, European tourists, ex drug addicts, people with high powered jobs, homeless, Jews, Muslims, people of religions we had never even heard of, and somehow we had something in common with each of them. A lot of the people who sat down I felt like I had known before. Maybe I had, somewhere or in another life. I do believe that each person that sat down was meant to find us. Natalie and I met people who we needed to meet at the time. She met an entirely different crop of people than me, and we both took away different things from the experience. I wish I could tell you everything I heard, but some of the details I’d like to leave out to respect people’s privacy.
So I guess the last thing to cover is WHY.
Why did we do this?
My answer to you: try it yourself and you’ll understand why.