For Frank

Sometimes people ask why I write. They point out, “You don’t get paid for it.”

I get that. I understand how it’s possible to forget what’s important.

Every billboard, every TV ad, every everything is selling something incredible for us to drag around for the rest of our lives (or at least until the next version comes out in six months). You’re a failure at my age if your home hasn’t been demolished by an IKEA warhead. It’s growing harder and harder to keep up, too. Even in a tough economy, diamonds are getting bigger, cell phones are becoming more expensive, and manufactured beauty is referred to as “maintenance.” We’re taught to risk logic and forsake our budgets in order to consume happiness.

That’s crazytown, and I’m glad I’ve lived to care otherwise.

Once upon forever ago’s yonder morn, NPR broadcasted a segment of StoryCorps that drove a nail through my hardened, commercialized shell. It was a simple dialogue between Frankie DeVito and his mom, Diana, as they supported one another in sharing their loss of Bill Steckman, Frankie’s grandfather, who died during the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers. It wasn’t the only time I’d felt strongly about what happened that day, but hearing the unique combination of strength and devastation in ten-year-old Frankie’s voice was the first time I was truly overcome. Certainly, as often happens with great accounts of triumph and tragedy, this story lent itself to me at a time I most needed to hear it. Thus, I committed to change: What was once so tangible and important officially didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to value life like Frankie did and I didn’t want to wait around until I had to learn that lesson through extreme grief.

So I recounted it all here as well as in a couple of other places. And I wrote his mom through StoryCorps. I never thought I’d hear back.

Last night, years later, Frank, now older and minus the “-ie,” found my commentary. My heart stopped when I saw his name in my inbox because I think about this kid’s story all the time. He appreciates the things everybody has said about his grandfather, “…who I still miss so dearly in my heart,” Frank wrote.

Listen up. This is why I write, and there is no greater payment. Storytelling vs. Bank Telling? No contest. You can’t buy this.

When we die, like it or not, we leave the footprint of what we’ve accomplished. Having waded through nine bazillion funerals as a preacher’s kid, I can promise nobody ever eulogized: “He had the most expensive car. He bought his wife the biggest boobs. His children wore the most expensive shoes. What a great guy.” Things can be cool, but there is no greater legacy than being sincerely loved, being missed “so dearly in my heart.”

Frank, keep these priorities with you for all of your days, and your grandfather’s legacy will survive within the hearts of all who were transformed by your story, kid. I encourage everybody to spend a minute and a half listening to young Frank here, as he was brave enough to share his painful memories with StoryCorps. It is the least you can do to honor his efforts and the life of Bill Steckman, his grandpa.

Naysayers? Payment received in full…circle.