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Abigail Thorpe

Shoulders hunched over my father’s 1960s typewriter, alternating between the sharp taps of the keys and the scratch of an old pen, my middle finger stained a dull brown from the ink, particles of dust dancing in the air with each ping. In my mind, this was the only way to truly recreate the ultimate story-writing experience. I imagined myself a young Lucy Maud Montgomery. I was 12.

At 14 the world of Jane Austen came alive for me. I must have read it eight times, enamored by how Austin managed to create wonderful, flawed, real characters. I then proceeded to  convince myself that one day I’d marry a duke. (My brother was quick to inform me of my delusions of grandeur, as he calls them.)

When I was 20 I wrote my college history thesis on Albert Speer—a reflection on how his childhood, experiences and education influenced his leadership in Nazi Germany—in essence how his story made sense of the man he ultimately became.

Twenty-three took me thousands of miles away to run a preschool in the middle of the Namibian countryside, four hours from the closest village and eight from the closest city. I experienced some of the most joyous and depressing moments of my life—writing them down was the only way I could cope and be sure I’d never forget what it felt like.

A year later I found myself sitting in a crowd of middle schoolers listening to another story—that of a Holocaust survivor who despite the pain, horror and loss he had endured, was willing to share his story with me and hundreds of others so that it might touch someone else, endure, and maybe, just maybe, keep something so horrible from happening again.

I was 24, a master’s student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and I was just beginning to realize how stories had completely shaped my life and become an innate part of my journey and calling. These were all key moments in my life, they all revolve around a story—either my own or someone else’s. Each story is unique—some are joyful and some are deeply sorrowful—most, like my own, are both.

Stories are the very essence of who we are, where we come from and what we aspire to. Without them, we have little context in which to understand our own lives and times. However, over time, oral stories grow the roots of legends and tall-tales, as truth becomes blurred and memory subjective. Our stories must be written down when they can be remembered, when taste, touch, smell and each minute detail are still fresh in the mind.

The process requires patience, honesty and often the willingness to peer deep inside and pull to the surface memories that have long desired to stay buried. But the result is as meaningful to yourself as it is a gift of love to the generations to follow you. I often ask myself: What will my story be? In many ways, I’m still creating it—we all are. But one thing I know, I don’t ever want to forget each moment and memory that has formed my story. For this reason, I write.