Many years ago there was a young man with a hangover who had a vision while stirring his finger in the dirt.
It was May 1973. I’d just turned 18 and was up partying all night with my high school class to prepare for the solemn ceremonies of graduation. I crept home at sunrise and slumped in a heap on the farmhouse steps.
My father stood over me, frowning. “Have a good day,” he said. “I hope you bake in the sun and enjoy the dust and have a great time driving that tractor with the roar of the engine pounding through your head.”
Listening, I sat dejectedly stirring a finger in the dirt at my feet. A flint blade appeared in the dirt. I stared at it, suddenly alert. Flint is hard and unforgiving, my father had taught us. It breaks the wrong way in the wrong hands, but some Indian flint blade makers had the skills of a sculptor.
Goodness, I thought.
My father was a compulsive storyteller who had taught his five sons, including me the eldest, a sense of wonder about Indian flint and everything else around us. I interrupted his sermon about beer and handed him the flint.
His eyes lit up and met mine. He fingered the blade edge as I had done, studying the cut of the stone. “Good lord,” he said. “Stories lie right here at our feet.”
Now it’s over 40 years later, and I have never forgotten how stories appear like magic, if we look. I’ve devoted a lifetime to looking.
Hundreds of people have entrusted me to tell their stories: The teenager who witnessed her mom’s suicide and became a runaway — and then a rescuer of runaways. Survivors of a Korean prison camp who recall a priest’s heroic sacrifices made on their behalf. The parents of a Army solider serving in Iraq who did not survive. The billionaire CEO spending millions on his political vision for America.
With every story, I remember my father’s advice: There is stuff below the surface we do not see unless we look. The land may look like so much dirt, but look closer and you will see the layers of bygone ages. On our Kansas farm, he said, you find arrowheads up by the grain bins, fossilized clam shells by the crickbank. Above the crick on the bluff, chunks of granite dragged down by glaciers, and to the south, limestone laid down by an ocean. All this lying at our feet. Nothing is truly simple, either with land or people. Everything is interesting if you look and listen carefully.
It’s been good advice.
(This is who I am. If you want to see my resume, check out my profile on LinkedIn.)