I believe that all people need someone to be interested in them, and I believe that everyone is interesting.
My great-Aunt Jean didn’t seem interesting to me when I was a kid. In fact, she seemed pretty strange. She never really said much. Her hair was long, gray and wild, and she was missing some teeth. Plus, she lived with her mom well into her 50s, which just seemed weird.
After her mother died, different family members checked in on her here and there, but then somehow, embarrassingly, we lost track. Was she homeless? Was she alive? We couldn’t find her…until she died.
Maybe she didn’t want to be found.
At her graveside, my Uncle George said she always had her head in the clouds. And he and her other brothers and sister let her know that was a bad thing.
He told me how all she cared about when she was younger was acting. Her friend Grace used to swing by in her convertible and off they’d go to the Hedgerow Theatre. Her friend was Grace Kelly, as in Princess Grace.
I couldn’t believe what he said. That’s so far from the severely introverted, unelegant aunt I saw. What else didn’t I know?
I could only imagine, especially after I saw a picture of her in her early twenties. She was elegant and beautiful. That picture opened my eyes to all that I hadn’t been seeing.
Aunt Jean was quiet because she thought no one wanted to hear about her dreams. She didn’t think she had anything in common with us. But my sister and I LOVED acting! We could’ve talked to her for hours about it if only we knew. If only she knew we would’ve been excited to listen.
If I had known, I would’ve asked a ton of questions and listened to any story she wanted to tell.
I wonder if she would’ve opened up, brightened up and been happier. Who knows? Maybe she would’ve started acting again in local plays. I’ll never know for sure, but I do know that I could’ve learned some pretty interesting things if I had talked to her more. She probably would’ve been my cool aunt, rather than my weird one. And she probably would’ve felt more like family.
She missed out on knowing me, and I missed out on knowing her. I didn’t know then what I know now—that everyone has a story to tell and that sharing our stories makes our lives so much richer.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.