Rachel: The Woman Who Started It All
Ever wondered how I got into life story writing? Meet Rachel.
I was sitting at a table in the food court of Brigham Young University, eating my usual lunch of Pop Tarts and a banana and pondering my usual thoughts of what the heck I should do with my life, when I saw an ad for a job in the window of the student center:
Elderly woman needs help typing up family letters. Contact Rachel at 801-402-3897.
The ad intrigued me. I liked old people. I could type. So I called Rachel and arranged to meet her at the senior community where she lived.
Rachel was 90 years old and absolutely vivacious. She was busy with projects and people, aware of everything and everyone in her community. Aware of her age, though, she had become concerned about preserving her personal history. She was never a good journal keeper, she told me, but she was a faithful letter writer. Over the years she had saved boxes of letters from friends and family and these, she said, contained much of the story of her life. She just needed some young, tech-savvy hands to type them up.
I felt an immediate warmth and connection to Rachel, so after our first meeting I agreed to do the work for her. Over the next several weeks, I learned to decipher sprawling cursive handwriting and Rachel’s story unfolded before me.
One of the most interesting things about her life is that she spent many years teaching English in China. She loved the people and the culture there. Rachel became so close to one of her students that she was like a daughter to her. She had plenty of heartache in her life, too—she struggled with infertility and her husband was unfaithful to her.
Rachel told me that, despite these heartaches, God had once told her to “love, and you will be loved.” And she did. She was a person who just exuded love, and you couldn’t help but love her back. She told me she loved me I think the second time I met with her. Not long after that, she told me she was certain we knew each other in the existence before this life, that our paths were destined to cross.
Working for Rachel changed my life. As I typed her letters and heard her stories, I entered a sacred space. It was like entering her secret treasure room, filled with all the jewels she had collected during her life, some won through fierce and bloody battles.
We finished the project in a couple of months and Rachel donated a copy to the Brigham Young University library. I continued to visit her occasionally, eventually with my fiancé, and she loved him right away too.
Over a year after we finished her project, Rachel passed away. I didn’t have any connections with her family, so I found out about her funeral through Facebook, just an hour before it started.
I threw on my black dress and hurried to the funeral chapel. I listened to tearful tributes and the music Rachel loved, songs she had chosen ahead of time for this occasion. And I finally got to meet the love of her life—her Chinese daughter.
I felt like something had come full circle, and circles are made to go ‘round again.
Thank you, Rachel, for starting me down the path of preserving life stories. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life.