A few months ago I wrote about my fascination with the Humans of New York (HONY) website. The site’s creator, Brandon Stanton, had the simple idea to photograph and interview ordinary people walking the streets of New York’s boroughs. The daily images and accompanying quotations he captures fascinate me – and nearly 10 million other Facebook friends according to the latest numbers – and the site’s popularity is becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
As such, and to expand his subject matter, Stanton recently left his familiar New York base and began a global tour. When his travels conclude, he will have visited Iraq, Jordan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Haiti, India, and the South Sudan.
For regular readers of his site, the international angle has brought a dramatic change in content. Individuals now tell stories, almost daily, of war and famine and horrific death – experiences that are generally foreign to those in Brooklyn and Queens. Mothers tell of watching their babies die, escaping bombs that crashed during the night. Children wonder what happened to their parents, who left for war and never returned.
I read these stories and feel a sense of disbelief. And luck. The geography of where you are born dictates the whole of your life.
And yet, even from war-savaged lands, there are also stories that feel familiar. A father who surprised his young daughter with a much-wished-for doll. A boy who yearns to be a soccer star. A woman’s delight at spending time with her five granddaughters.
I think about my grandfather’s autobiography. His life escaping Russia, arriving in America with twenty-five cents, learning of the death of his family during the Holocaust. Heartbreaking stories. Awe-inspiring stories. Stories that seem unimaginable from the sheltered place where I sit.
But my grandfather also fell in love, bought his first home, started a business. He struggled with health issues, struggled with relationship issues. He felt passionate about his family.
HONY’s trip abroad – and my memories about my grandfather – drive home an important point. Whether we are separated by geography, poverty, time, or circumstance, there are similarities that connect us all. Your children and grandchildren may read your memoir and marvel at your early days without cars or televisions. Without computers or cell phones. They will feel intrigued and curious…and probably somewhat disconnected.
Until they read about your fear of starting Kindergarten. Or excitement on your wedding day. Or sadness when your mother passed.
Tell your grandchildren the full story of where you came from. You will educate them, Fascinate them. And bring them closer than ever.
Please let me know if I can help.