Lia’s College Essay

On my first day at Life Chronicles, I walked into the office and found the director, Kate, frantically grabbing supplies for our upcoming taping. She hurriedly handed me a large camera bag and light and directed me to her car. On the way, she explained how Life Chronicles makes a vital difference in the lives of people who have a story to tell; I was about to be a part of one of those stories.

After a short drive, we arrived at an apartment building where Mary, a frail middle-aged woman, greeted us. We quickly set up the equipment, made Mary comfortable, and began taping. We were making a video recording for Mary of her life story and the message she wanted to pass down to her family after her death. It struck me that a complete stranger merely one hour before told us everything there was to know about her. She had a daughter who died in a fire, and another whom she had given up for adoption and hadn’t seen for 17 years. Because of these tragic losses, she became an alcoholic, wandering the streets for 20 years before finally deciding to take hold of her life again. She became sober only to be diagnosed with cancer and told she had less than a year to live. For one hour I was completely absorbed into the life of someone else in a way I had never been before. I vividly remember every detail of her apartment, just as I recall every detail of her life story. As we left, tears streaming down my cheek, I understood how much this taping really meant to her; I helped this stranger pass her message on.

We packed up and drove to the office to return the equipment and put things in order. As I emptied the car and put the equipment in storage, I stumbled upon a safebox full of hundreds of tapes. I realized that each of these tapes held a story, just like Mary’s, about peoples’ lives, struggles and memories. I was struck that such a small object could contain the story of an entire life. Within Mary’s small apartment and even smaller body, she held an enormous story that needed to be told. I was hooked; I both wanted and needed to be part of this deeply moving process. I saw how lights, camera and tapes could keep a person’s life within reach.

I began to participate in many more tapings, some that were distinct and others a blur. Yet, each story was important in its own right: a cloistered nun who spent 20 years of her life in silence, a series of World War II veterans, a group of elderly people reminiscing about their long lives, and a 40-year-old man dying from a brain tumor, relaying his messages to his wife and young children. We traveled around Santa Barbara and Los Angeles to capture the crucial messages people wanted to pass down to their loved ones. In every taping, the person on the other side of the camera transformed from a complete stranger into someone I felt I knew well after only an hour or two. I was always eager to go back to the office and watch the
tapes again as I edited the stories. After each tape was completed with pictures and music of their choice, the tapes were presented to the person who confessed their life story to us.

Looking back, I realize this organization was a important part of my high school life because it made me feel as though I was giving back to the community, instead of taking from it. I define community a bit differently now than I did when I began. What started as a required internship assignment evolved into a deep understanding that community is a gathering of unique individuals who share their lives together. We create our legacies with and through each other. Even though the tapings were depressing and regularly brought tears to my eyes, I knew that I was helping people to be remembered. When I began, there was only one large safebox of tapes and memories. I smile quietly realizing that it has now grown to several. I, too, will keep
their memories safe.

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