Among the many perks of being a Columbia journalism student, one is having full access to a population of esteemed, working journalists who have made both fundamental and ground-breaking strides in the industry as well as in the world. Today, at a lecture I had prematurely bemoaned for being at the end of a grueling day, turned out to be one of my most transformative experiences – not only for the direction of my career but also for my life as a whole. Today, we were visited by David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, an audio storytelling site that records personal testimonials from citizens as common as you and I. They’re short and nuanced, but their effect is infinite. And I promise, if you spend at least 10 minutes on this site, you’ll be converted to the world of public radio and you’ll appreciate the power of the spoken word.
Today, I met through these stories a number of people who have unwittingly changed my life. They recounted the stories of loves lost to tragedy. They reprised pivotal moments in their lives, no matter how painful or intimate they were. I heard the story of a father who buried both of his sons – one a firefighter and the other a police officer – who were called to the World Trade Center on September 11 and died. I heard the story of an eternal love between the world’s most unexpected, diehard romantic and his wife of 27 years in his final days lost to terminal cancer. I heard the story of a man, who, in his desperate and paralyzing heartache, continues to search to this day for a picture of his fiancé who jumped to her death from the North Tower of the WTC.
It clearly hasn’t been a chipper evening, nor will it be for a while. But in this sort of self-imposed melancholy, I’ve taken with me a very important lesson – one that I wish I had learned many years ago. And I want to thank Mr. Isay for bringing it to light. What you say to the ones you love is so powerful and so paramount in ways that you may never know or understand until you can’t say it to them anymore. Alternately, what you don’t say (and consequently what you may never hear) can truly be lost forever. So, take the time to talk to your parents, your siblings, your best friends, your lovers. And in pure journalistic fashion, interview them. Record them. Record what they have to say about you, about love, about family, duty, honor, tradition, life, anything. Record as many “I love you’s” as you possibly can – because in life’s cruel transience, we have this opportunity to immortalize them. We have this chance to keep their words, and thus them, in our hearts.