Drop a pebble in the water; just a splash and it is gone;
But there’s a half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on,
Spreading, spreading, from the center, flowing on out to the sea
And there’s no way of telling where the end is going to be.
– James W. Foley
On October 5, 2006, during the opening session of the annual conference for the Association of Personal Historians, I experienced a keynote address that was the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. The speaker was Bob Welch. He’s a columnist for The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, Oregon, and an author. His talk chronicled his experiences researching and writing his book, American Nightingale – The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy.
Frances Slanger was the first American nurse to die after the D-Day landings. She was killed the night after writing a letter to Stars and Stripes, a letter that praised American GIs and, in turn, inspired many of those soldiers to write letters in response. It’s a fascinating, inspiring and heartwarming story. And what I’d like to do is focus on a small part of that story: the poem you see above.
A copy of the poem was found in Slanger’s “chapbook,” a scrapbook-like volume filled with writings and poems she held dear. As Welch pointed out in his address, it’s a poem that speaks volumes to those of us dedicated to preserving personal and family stories and histories.
That’s because we’re the pebbles. When you start out to create a family or personal history, you create an initial splash. And the ripples from that splash, your efforts, can produce unexpected and delightful results.
In my own case, I never would have dreamt back in 1998 that the video biography I produced about my grandmother’s life would impact my family as greatly as it did. The video continues to provide comfort to the children who miss her dearly. At least one grandchild included the video in a history project at his school. And, years later, it helped spawn Family Legacy Video, Inc., helping others preserve their precious histories. So the ripples continue to this day.
And, as the ripples of your efforts continue to spread, you’ll find you inspire others to tell their stories. There’s just no end to this personal history “ripple effect.” It will continue for years, and generations, to come.
So go ahead. Drop a pebble in the water. Do it today.