My grandfather is a charming 90-year-old. He moves slow, but is quick to laugh. His smile is warm, but he is always cold. His name is Bob, I call him pop-pop. After ten minutes together he'll usually begin telling his stories. They are good stories—mostly about athletic achievements, our family, and the war. There are only 4 or 5 of them and I know them by heart because I have been listening to them for the past 10 years. If I don't choose to be patient I find myself trying to finish them for him. The repetition is absolutely endearing.
When I saw him over Christmas he looked tired, and was a bit more hesitant to tell his stories around the table. I missed them. Like a kid wanting my dad to read me the same book over and over again each night, I wanted to hear to my pop-pop's stories. Not because I loved the books, but because I loved having my dad read them to me. And not because I love my grandpa's stories, but because I love to listen to him tell them.
I'd give anything to travel back in time and watch my grandpa do a western-roll over a high-jump bar at Wilson high school. Or to cheer him on during a semi-pro soccer game against the German-Americans in Philadelphia. Or to listen to him question the boys my mom dated in Reading. Or to feel pride as he stood his morals against temptations during the war in France.
These stories of his are not the only important moments in his life. They are not the only times he felt successful, accomplished, or proud. But whether it is the science of old age, or a conscious filtering—these few moments are the memories he chooses to share with us. They are from times and places that have changed him, and now his children and his grandchildren. We record our entire lives through social media, in retina-display detail. We tweet urls, we like everything, and we Instagram experiences as they are happening. We tell story, after story, after story, after story. But are any of them good ones? Are they the kind that we'd share if we could only tell four or five of them, over and over to our grandchildren?
If we, like my grandfather, filtered our lives into a few short narratives. Which ones would they be? Would I show pictures from a hike through Ireland? A project at work? Would I even mention my months in Nashville? My expensive shoes? My iPhone? Would they be about successfulness, accomplishment, and pride? Or would they be about the times when I risked everything and failed? When I made sacrifices? When I loved?
It's easy to feel that everything is really important, that moving to New York is the biggest thing I've ever done, and that I have to make my decisions quickly. That I'm running out of time, and that I'll never be a Young Gun. It's easy to feel that I need to capture every second, share them, and hope for likes.
If I only have four or five stories to tell, I want them to be epic adventures—500 pages long. The kind of tales that take time to develop. The kind that have a full story-arch, and whose main character sacrifices something small to gain something large. The kind that take work. Slow, steady, work. My grand-kids aren't going to care about my crappy little apartment, and creepy roommate I lived with when I was trying to save money. But I hope they will be inspired by the outcome. I hope they will beg me to tell my few stories, over and over, and over, and over again.