The heat was close to the point of being unbearable as it radiated up from the cracks in the dry, red clay. A cluster of loose pebbles shifted under his boot reminding him of the sound of a rodent scuttling towards a spare piece of bread. His feet, swinging back and forth over the road, brought him step after step closer to happiness. A red-tailed hawk’s cry pierced the settling silence of the afternoon as it bolted from its perch on top of a tobacco barn. Cutting the still air with its wings, it glided over the field and disappeared above the tree line just up ahead. He watched it as he walked, wishing that he, too, could spread wings right about now and swoop towards his destination. But he was only on mile seventeen and before him lay another seventeen miles. Seventeen more miles of the same heat. The same humidity. And the sticky blanket that is a Georgia day in mid-August. No wings in sight. It wasn’t his first journey of thirty-four miles on foot. It wouldn’t be his last. So he knew the landscape like he knew the darkly tanned back of his hands. The bends in the road were never a surprise. The familiar faces behind the mules and plows were expectations. His thoughts were often the same and the sweat dripping underneath the brim of his hat was as regular as the mail. His only surprise lay at the end of the thirty-four miles. When he would step off the side street and down the narrow path to that front door. By the time he reached the first step and stretched his arm out to rap on the door, he would get this strange sensation. It was never the same twice. Sometimes it would rush upon him. Sometimes it would move slowly from his toes north. The way it struck him was always a revelation. And as she opened the door, time after time with the sunlight taking its final bows, he wrestled with the sadness and hopefulness of the distance. His entire day would be filled with the desperate hanging that one day his love would only be thirty-four feet away, not thirty-four miles. I am not sure love travels thirty-four miles on foot anymore as it did in the early 1930s. But, I do know that a story will travel thirty-four hundred miles when it’s told right, especially if told to someone who cares. Our stories are sometimes all we have left and with each passing day, a million stories go untold and thus, a million stories and lives are forgotten. Be sure that yours is not one of them. Each of us has a story that hasn’t been disclosed yet to waking ears. Each of us provides a link between the generation before us and the one that’s just beginning.
Embrace your passion. Tell the stories. Change a life. It could very well be your own.
Jason D. Johnson is the Vice-President of Creativity for Senior Living Communities, owner and operator of Summit Hills Retirement Community in Spartanburg, SC and oversees their Life Story Project for residents and their families. He lives in Spartanburg with his wife, JD, and a large passel of rescued animals.