Thursday, August 26, 2010

People Watching

Daniel Schorr died recently. I always loved listening to his commentaries on NPR. Consequently, on my next trip to the library, I headed over to the biography section, intent on learning more about this man who has piqued my interest over the years. Obviously, someone else had the same idea. No biography available on our dear Mr. Schorr. Undeterred, I began to browse the biography racks for other gems. I knew I would find a handful in short order. Sometime in the last decade I discovered that I love biographies, and that my enjoyment of the book has very little to do with any previous affinity for its subject. I imagine that realization came about the time I devoured a biography of the drummer for The Doors. I can name exactly one Doors song ("Light My Fire," naturally), and even now I can't bring to mind the name of the drummer. Nonetheless, I found the book fascinating.

I suppose I simply love the back stories behind the faces of humanity. I love the joys of discovering nobility in unexpected places and the insights I gain from other folks' triumphs and tragedies, even the small day-to-day ones. With that in mind, I've been thinking of some biographies I would like to read, some people who have crossed my path and left behind a question mark.

Obvious names come to mind, of course. Someday, I want to read the real story of Joseph the Carpenter, not just the few verses in the Bible that mention him or the myths created about him in an effort to preserve Mary's virginity for all time. And I want to read the story of my grandmother, Florence, who died long before my birth.

I also want to read about the 30-something man with a bright blue t-shirt who stood by the roadside yesterday holding a sign that read "will work for living expenses." He wore a baseball cap tilted just over his eyes and looked for all the world like a suburban dad on a Saturday morning.

Maybe someday I will stumble across a memoir by my college roommate. I lost track of her after that first year of college. I ran around with the honors group, and she danced on the dance line. Our circles rarely crossed. I heard some years ago that her husband died in the early years of their marriage. I often wonder how that tragedy affected her.

Half a world away and years later, Steven Koch successfully became the first person to snowboard down the highest peaks on all seven continents. Anyone that crazy must have a fascinating biography out there. In fact, given the expenses he must have incurred in the process of peak hopping, I am quite certain I could purchase his story for a small fee. I should do that.

Also thousands of miles from my sleepy Midwestern town, a Jainist nun named Mataji caught the eye of a journalist for the Washington Post. Mataji and her fellow nuns live an ascetic life, renouncing all possessions and, indeed, all attachments to any thing or person. These nuns walk, barefoot, for years, brushing the ground before their feet to avoid killing even a bug along their path. At the end of their lives, the women take sallekhana, essentially starving themselves to death in a ritual designed to bridge them into the next life. I am intrigued with the motivations and life experiences that bring a young woman like Mataji to such an extreme devotion.

And finally, I wish for a biography I will never have the chance to read. Eighteen years ago, my husband died of cancer at the age of 25. I would love to read about the man he never had the chance to become. As I watch our son grow, I begin to understand how little I knew his father. I would like to know him.


  1. You are amazing. I really felt an insight into your soul through this piece, Juliana. Someday I'll pay money to read your biography so write it. JenSav

  2. I read you work, constantly absorbing some bit of who you are: a beautiful daughter of God, with all the complexities that entails. I, too, would love to read your biography. Perhaps you'll let me write it some day? Or if not, I at least expect a signed copy!

  3. I have always been fascinated by the life of the grandmother I didn't know. I think that all of her grand-daughters (at least from the oldest 4 children) have the desire to know her, and what part of her we carry with us in our individual lives. On a side note, my mom has copies of a couple of talks that she gave, a brief history written by grandpa, and memories compiled by her children that are fortunate enough to remember her. Let me know if you have, or would like copies.

  4. Julie, I think I have some of the history you mention but not all. I'd love copies!