What makes a good story

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Someone recently asked me, “What makes a good story?”

The answer I offered, and one I truly believe: You.

Here’s what I mean. The above photo is my grandparents, Marta and Curt Herz. Grandpa was a bookkeeper, Grandma worked as a clerk at Macy’s in New York City. Were you to meet them, you wouldn’t automatically think, “Whoa, great story!” That’s how most of us have been mentally trained. Derek Jeter is a great story. Miley Cyrus is a great story. The star of a Broadway play, the hero of a conflict in Iraq, the firefighter who saves two babies from a burning building. All great stories.

And perhaps they are.

The thing is, we’re all great stories. We really are. We all experience highs, lows, good, bad. We’ve all had obstacles to overcome, hurdles to clear. Marta and Curt Herz, anonymous workers in a city of 8 million, escaped Nazi Germany during Hitler’s rise. Marta’s mother died at Auschwitz, and for the rest of her life (87 years) she couldn’t speak of Hitler or the 8 million. They came to the U.S., speaking nary a word of English, and moved into a small apartment. They worked crap jobs—cleaning a movie theater and the like. My grandpa was a painfully grumpy and oft-depressed man who smoked cigarillos and listened to classical music on an old record player. My grandma loved art and museums. She was once mugged. She bought a necklace under the bridge for $1. She walked everywhere. She was always burdened by her past. She lived a happy life, but never fully escaped the murder of her mother. Hell, how could she? How could anyone?

My point isn’t to praise my late grandparents. My point is that—in front of you and behind you and above you and below you—Marta and Curt Herzes abound, and they have tremendous sagas waiting to be told.

We just need the willingness to listen.