The Gift of Good Listening

Healthwise Living

My husband read a remarkable book and passed it on to me. Now I am passing the book, and the idea behind the book, on to you. The name of the book is Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project. The inspiration for this book came from the StoryCorps project, founded in 2003 and directed by Dave Isay, an award winning radio documentary producer. The process behind StoryCorps seems simple enough: set up a soundproof mini-recording studio called, appropriately enough, the StoryBooth; provide trained facilitators; and invite Americans of every age, race, gender, political, economic and religious persuasion to spend 45 minutes engaged in a personal interview conducted by a dear family member, close friend or co-worker.

The goal of StoryCorps was, and continues to be, to illuminate our common humanity through individual perceptions and experiences of American culture and history. But for me the project accomplishes so much more. It offers the gift so many people crave, but don't always realize, a chance to be heard. To be really heard. To spend 45 minutes exposing vulnerabilities, fears, hopes and achievements. To share a unique view of life's events from the mundane to the pivotal, and from the joyous to the shattering. To make real the dreams that shape our passions and our nightmares. To share all those feelings with a loved one, or caring interview partner in a safe, focused environment. And to emerge with a recording that sets the time, the place and the memory, forever.

The book compiles and arranges numerous interviews and excerpts in thematic order. Interviews are also broadcast each Friday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Locally that means KQED 88.5 FM.

I dare anyone to read the book, or listen to a broadcast, and not be moved to laughter or tears. This opportunity to briefly enter someone else's life, to see it through his or her eyes, is enlightening indeed. But for me the message is more profound. Listening to really hear is a gift we can give each other more than once in a lifetime in the StoryBooth. It is not always fun. It can be sad or scary. It can also be incredibly touching and amazing to listen deeply and thoughtfully, fully committed to the moment.

Nov. 23 was declared National Listening Day by StoryCorps. But not to worry, it is never too late to plan time to listen. Here in the Bay Area we are very lucky to have easy access to a StoryBooth. From now until October 2009, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is hosting the StoryBooth. The StoryBooth is open most Sundays and Thursdays for scheduled interviews. To make an interview appointment, which is required, visit the StoryCorps Web site: or call (800) 850-4406. If you are unable to make an interview appointment, more good news. The StoryCorps website also has a complete guide you can download for doing your interviews at home. Suggestions for equipment, atmosphere, and question generators are all available online. At no cost, but your time and your willingness to really listen.

Whoever said the best things in life are free was right. Have a loving, listening holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Speaking of listening, I have so appreciated the enthusiastic feedback I have received for the "Healthwise Living" column over these past five years. Yes, it has been that long. And I am most grateful to Alameda Sun publisher Julia Park Tracey for giving me my first writing gig. So I am going to take a break for a while to pursue other writing projects and, I must admit, organize my house and get a little more exercise. But I will keep you posted about important health developments, environmental concerns, books, events and people who are making a difference on my blogs: www.greenglobalvision or starting in 2009. You can also find my latest articles on www.noellerobbins .com. Thanks so much for your loyalty and support. They have been a precious gift to me.

Noelle Robbins is an Alameda writer.


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