Thursday, January 17, 2008

1. Living a Wonderful Life

I had the good fortune of meeting famed film director Frank Capra a number of years ago. He was from the small town of Bisacquino in Sicily, near the ancestral town of my Grandfather, but my friendship with him began when he answered a letter I had written to the Motion Picture Academy.

I was relatively fresh out of college, and was still trying to decide what to do with my life. Like Mr. Capra, I’d gotten my degree in engineering, but wanted to do something different … namely, to touch other people’s emotions through the telling of stories.

In time, I had the opportunity (at his invitation) to meet him in person. I found him to be a warm, receptive, and fascinating individual with a wonderful sense of humor and a keen ability to perceive the world around him.

One day, I asked him the secret of becoming a master storyteller.

He didn’t speak of form or function. Instead, he looked at me and smiled. “Jack,” he said, “if you want to tell a great story, go out and live a great story. Meet people, encounter new things, open yourself up to extraordinary events. Be brave. Be courageous. Be attentive. Be a good listener. Listen to what people are saying, and listen even closer to what they’re not saying. Be aware of your surroundings. Try to understand what other people are feeling. And don’t be afraid of your own emotions … fear, pain, failure, grief, joy, exhilaration, happiness, sadness … they’re all part of the incredible fabric that makes us human, so they’re all part of the grand story.”

I pondered his words for months. Then, after some prayer and planning, I left my formal corporate job as an engineer and embarked on a journey that continues to this very day. I traveled extensively … to foreign lands, across this country, through my neighborhood, to the person right in front of me, and deep within my own heart and soul.

And, just as Frank Capra had foretold, Providence placed me in a position to amass countless stories. Some have been spectacular in their scope and drama. Some have been perfect in their simplicity and structure. Some have involved the rich and famous (and infamous), while others have been about the relatively unknown people who come across one’s path every day. Some have been mysterious, some complex, some humorous, some poignant, some uplifting, some completely silly, and some profound. Some have developed over time and can only be observed from a distance. Others are still evolving and can only be told when the time is right.

All have required the openness and courage about which Mr. Capra spoke. All, even the painful ones, have been both enlightening and enriching. And all have become pieces in the intricately wonderful adventure that we call life.

So let us begin …