This past week, The Moth MainStage debuted in Nashville. I was honored to share the stage with four amazing storytellers, among them Jerry Neal, a 95-year-old WWII bomber pilot, who — despite surviving the Depression and a world war — looked maybe 75.
Jerry told a story about his role in D-Day, about sitting in a room with 200 other pilots, seeing the curtain pull back on a map of Western Europe, and getting his orders to fly over more than 7,000 vessels in the English Channel on his way to bomb his targets. Low on fuel, he was forced to crash his plane on a strip of land that appeared out of nowhere while flying back over the water. He and three crew members survived; seven others drowned. While he was not a spiritual man before his ordeal, he became one afterwards. Jerry was 22 at the time.
Needless to say, he got a standing ovation.
The Truck Driver
The next day a new friend invited me to see Garrison Keillor broadcast A Prairie Home Companion live from the legendary Ryman Theater. The highlight of the evening was when Garrison Keillor’s truck driver of 30 years, Russ Ringsak, performed “Six Days on the Road” to mark his retirement that night (appropriately changing the last chorus to “30 years on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight”). Sure, country music superstar Brad Paisley was the headliner, but as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, “the only artist to get a standing ovation from the crowd at Ryman Auditorium was the show’s long-time truck driver.”
It’s About Service (and Maybe Humility)
One man served in a war, another worked for a radio show. But both these men embodied stories of service behind the scenes, of being part of something greater than themselves, of doing unglamorous but incredibly important work that had to be done. And we’re hungry for these stories of service. The audiences wrapped both Jerry and Russ in so much love and respect that it was palpable. They inspired us to serve, and in a world filled with tasteless selfies and bad sound bites, I’m incredibly grateful.
Give a Nekkid Man for Graduation
Send that graduate off with some wise words about the downside of conformity and the benefits of doing what you love for a living. Or share some laughs (and a few tears) with the mothers in your life.
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