During the summer and early fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to sit with Lucimarian Roberts, the 88 year-old mother of Good Morning America anchor, Robin Roberts, and listen to her life stories. Lucimarian, Robin and I were co-authoring a book together. My role was to capture Lucimarian’s stories as she shared them with me.
Each morning I would wait in my hotel room for Lucimarian to call and tell me that she was ready to begin another interview session. I would hop into my rental car and make the short drive along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to her home in Pass Christian. As we took our seats opposite one another in her living room, I would pull out my notebook and pen then turn on a tiny tape recorder to record the conversation.
Though I had a list of questions ready to prompt Lucimarian’s memory, I quickly discovered that her stories flowed effortlessly. In fact, there was a natural rhythm that developed as one story spontaneously sparked one another, then another. I found that there was no need to adhere to a chronological time line. The stories made their own way as we meandered through various seasons of her life.
My heart was warmed each time I’d see Lucimarian’s eyes light up when she remembered something she especially wanted to share. She amazed me with her recall of detail. By the time I glanced at the clock, I realized that hours had passed since we had begun.
As I listened to Lucimarian’s stories, I felt the past come alive through the voice of this African American woman. She had lived through the Great Depression and had dealt with years of racial injustice. She had grown up with an alcoholic father and a mother who worked two jobs to keep the family together. But through every challenge, she says it was her Christian faith that gave her the strength and courage to persevere.
I soon discovered how the hymns she’d learned in her childhood brought her comfort as she rode out Hurricane Katrina in her Mississippi home. I listened intently as she talked about how she turned the wounds of racial injustice into opportunities to reflect Christ’s love. Without a doubt, there was much wisdom in hearing her stories.
The thing is, you don’t have to be a celebrity’s mother to have important life stories. Everyone has a life story made up of countless narratives. Some of those narratives are pivotal moments, others are ordinary happenings. But together they create a one-of-a-kind tapestry. If you stand back and study the tapestry, you’ll likely find great wisdom that comes from long life.
Today’s church has an opportunity to share and preserve stories of older adults, stories which will benefit younger people. Here are some ideas to capture those stories:
- Host an intergenerational event in which stories are celebrated. Ask each person, young and old, to bring a “touchstone”—an item that triggers special memories of a relationship or event from their life. Break into multi-aged groups of ten or fifteen. Have each person share a brief story about their object.
- Invite older adults to share their life stories on video. Create a home-like atmosphere in a small room with an easy chair and lamp. Since older adults may find a video camera intimidating, disguise it behind a faux tree or plant. Have an interviewer, perhaps a youth, ask questions of the older adult. Capture their stories on DVD. Provide copies for the older adult and for the church library.
- Create a booklet of faith stories of older adults. Ask each older adult to share a time when their faith was challenged or to tell how their faith helped them overcome a difficult period in their life. For those older adults unable to write their own story, have a church or family member write it for them. Print copies of the booklet for each family in the church.