Warren G. Smith was a master storyteller.
He could hold you spellbound for hours as he spun his yarns. Like the time a jealous man cut the brakes of his father’s bread truck, sending them spilling into a ravine halfway across their mountainous route. Or when he dressed as Santa to greet people traveling home for the holidays through the Amtrak station where he volunteered. Or how he rescued a boy from drowning because he was the only one at that lake who knew CPR. His stories were burnished over time like beloved war medals, ready to be brought out at a moment’s notice.
Warren, my grandfather, recently passed away. But his stories live on.
Stories help us piece together the tenuous link between motivation and action, between cause and effect. They help us forge meaning out of the pitiless sweep of time. They are our memory, our guide and our hope for eternity.
They are what make us human.
My job is far more storyteller than storymaker. I hunt for examples of people or groups who live McKinstry’s values of stewardship and community spirit. Like the STEM mentors in Colorado who spent hundreds of hours with high school students on a greenhouse renovation project. Or all the mentors working on job-readiness skills with first-generation college students with the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship. Or the engineers who led project-based learning activities with seventh grade girls at Expanding Your Horizons.
These stories help illustrate McKinstry’s commitment to community engagement. Alone, a single story gives an example of a person or an organization acting altruistically. Together, these stories start to stitch together a common narrative that drapes over the abstraction of community engagement, giving form to the unique shape underneath. This narrative tapestry inspires others, offers employees a guide for how to get involved themselves, and – most importantly – lifts up our aspirations to remind us why we spend our hard-won free time on others.
My grandfather didn’t set out to weave a narrative out of all his stories. But I can look back on all of them and see themes that tell me who that person was: someone who knew to always pick himself back up, to smile through adversity, and to embrace change as opportunity.
This is how you build a legacy: offer a steady, methodical drumbeat, during good times and bad, of actions aligned with your intentions. Our stories – of individuals trying to live a good life or organizations built to leave the world a better place – are this tattoo, sounding out our humanity with a rhythm all our own.