Wednesday, January 30, 2013

when is a "public" story really private?

Video-blog segment: Here it is – click here - , the promised once-a-week video-element to this blog. It’s “one-take,” and rough around the edges. I’d appreciate your candid appraisals – DEREK 
2156STORY: I had an interesting experience yesterday, while conducting three more interviews for my series on veterans who served in the armed forced during WW2 and other times of national crisis.
What happened raised the question – for me – of, “Whose story is it?” and, “When does a story transcend privacy and really belong to history?”
(My thoughts have also been prompted by recent controversy regarding the coverage of private grief in public places, most notably an image of a woman on her knees, praying in front of a church the day of the Newtown shootings. “My grief was private,” she insisted. “The place was public,” countered others.)
DSC_0004LIVING HISTORY: And so I returned to the retirement community where I’m in the process of interviewing men and women with some amazing stories. I talked with John Newcomb (pictured with his son, Mike), who served in the Air Force before enjoying a long career as an engineer with Boeing. Then I was fascinated by William Templeman’s varied career in the Navy, as a Warrant Officer in the Reserve, as a school guidance counselor, and even in television with WEDU.
Then I spent an hour with one more gentleman, an interesting and deeply intelligent soldier with vast experience. His work placed him in close proximity with some of the key players in mid 20th century military history.
STOP THE PRESSES! Eventually, 50-minutes into the conversation, because of the tone of a couple of his comments, I said: “Are you sure you’re OK with these questions? Your last answer was a little hesitant.”
“I consider this a huge intrusion,” he retorted. “My life is none of your d___ business!”
He was angry. His voice was raised. He was visibly upset.
“Would you rather I didn’t publish your story in the newspaper?” I asked.
“Can you do that?” he responded.
“It’s your story,” I said. “If you don’t want me to write it, then I won’t. In fact, if you’d like me to I’ll delete this interview right now.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
So I did. I cued up the file on my digital recorder and I let him watch as I hit the “delete” button.
Almost immediately he relaxed. And I told him that – for me – it was an hour well spent, regardless. Because we had enjoyed this great conversation and my life was enriched because of him. I told him I was grateful for the experience, and I told him I felt privileged to know him.
The recording/file is gone, but I do have his photograph for my own collection (with his permission). And, other than the one priceless quote he gave me that I’m going to conclude today’s post with, this one retired soldier’s story is going to have to be limited to being a part of my general background for the Big Picture story in my head.
MacARTHUR: It’s a shame; because there’s not a human being on the face of this earth who doesn’t have a story worth sharing. But at least he did share it with me, and my prayer is that the telling of the tale provided a measure of healing for this man’s wounded spirit.
So here’s my one quote from the interview. As a soldier, serving in the Philippines, my new friend worked in the building occupied by the legendary General Douglas MacArthur.
“So you met MacArthur?” I asked.
“Meet General MacArthur?” he laughed…. “You don’t meet God!”

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