Life Stories

by Libby James

I belong to a community circle, a small group designed to promote fellowship in a time when it is often hard to come by. I joined with some hesitancy, but I am so glad that I did. Recently we decided to extend our usual one-hour weekly zoom meeting for an extra half hour every other week in order to hear the life story of one of our members. Turns out that was a brilliant idea. I so look forward to these sessions.

Last night we heard another one of our members tell her story. It was the first of the series that I’d heard, and for me it set a high bar. She said that she had been thinking about what to say for the entire week but in the end spent only an hour getting her thoughts together. The problem with sharing a lifetime in thirty minutes is not what to say, but what to leave out. We all have a headful of thoughts and experiences. The issue is to choose to talk about the most meaningful ones—the encounters and our reactions to them that were the most important in defining who we are.

Our first storyteller recalled her growing up years in an historic New England setting which she loved despite chafing at the conservative culture she encountered there. She began to seek out a different environment.

After college, she moved to California where she taught French at Berkeley High School until, after two years, she joined the Peace Corps. In Sierra Leone, West Africa where she was assigned, she found herself in a community where there was an immediate need for women’s health care. Willingly, she abandoning her skills as a French teacher, took a three-week crash course from an Irish nun who was also a physician, and began to deliver babies. That became a life-changing decision for her. One of her proudest accomplishments was persuading local midwives to stop packing the umbilical cords of newborns with cow dung. While the procedure stopped bleeding, it often spread tetanus causing the illness and sometimes the death of newborns.

After her Peace Corps experience, she moved to Colorado where she enrolled in the science classes at Colorado State University that she would need to earn a degree as a nurse midwife. She found a program at Yale University designed for people like her who had experience in the field but needed to become certified. Back home in Colorado, she became a major force in making it possible for midwives to establish practices and gain hospital privileges in the state. She established the first midwifery practice with hospital privileges in Fort Collins, retiring after a long and successful career. When she retired, she was the oldest person ever to hold hospital privileges at her hospital.

That’s just a sample of the kind of stories people tell when given the opportunity. These days, when we may find ourselves with all kinds of bizarre thoughts running through our heads, it may be a good time to reminisce a little. Here’s hoping that you will have an opportunity to sort out your life story and offer it to a small group of people willing to listen, and to share their stories with you.