Everybody has a story. Bartenders know this. Psychologists know this. Journalists know this.
It was the premise behind Charles Kuralt’s television essays, “On the road with Charles Kuralt,” which ran for 25 years. More recently, Steve Hartman has revisited the concept with an “Everybody Has a Story” segment on CBS’ “The Early Show.” And, on a local level, David K. Johnson wrote the long-running column “Everybody Has a Story” for the Lewiston Morning Tribune, eventually using it as the foundation for his 2002 book “No Ordinary Lives: One Man’s Surprising Journey into the Heart of America.”
The idea seemed easy enough to emulate in Spokane. To start, all I needed to do was open the phone book. Point. Call. The first call was to a man who’d died six years earlier, and his widow did not wish to be interviewed. It wasn’t an auspicious start.
After 39 phone calls I came to two conclusions: Spokane residents don’t stay home on sunny Sunday afternoons, and I shouldn’t go into sales. Over half the calls went unanswered or to voice mail. Several were disconnected numbers – evidence my 2009 phone book is obsolete. The rest were largely to people who did not want to tell their stories.
According to an article about Johnson, he was rarely refused. I’m no Johnson.
Several people said, “Not interested,” as if I were selling ad space or encyclopedias, while others modestly said things like, “I didn’t have an interesting life,” or, “I’m a very dull person.”
I don’t believe them.
Only one person hung up on me. He must have had meat burning because he brusquely said he was barbecuing and didn’t have time, not waiting to hear I’d happily interview him another day.
By the time I called Susan Krueger in Spokane Valley I was ready to give up. She told me later she’d said “yes” because I sounded so discouraged. “You poor thing. You got turned down by so many people. I’m such a sucker for a nice person.”
I think it’s also because she practices empathy on a daily basis as a restorative nurse coordinator at St. Joseph Care Center.
“I like geriatrics a lot,” she said, explaining her job and its similarities to pediatrics, a field she avoided because of her boys. “I love children, but my own sons had some health problems. It is an area that is too close to home. But there is not a lot of difference between the (pediatric) population and geriatric population. They will tell you what they think of you – whether they like your hair or think you’re fat.”
As a registered nurse, Krueger said she is often asked about various ailments. “There’s this funny aspect, if you go somewhere and you meet somebody and they hear you are a nurse, they’ll say, ‘Can you look at my back here?’ You get called for a friend’s dad’s next-door neighbors.”
Then there are times when Krueger knows just by watching someone that something isn’t right physically.
“It comes up every day. If I see people on the street having trouble walking I can kind of figure out what’s going on. I’m one of those people that notices everything about people.”
Once, Krueger asked an acquaintance if she’d been to a tanning salon because her skin had a yellow tinge. When the woman said no, Krueger encouraged her to have her liver checked. It turned out the jaundice was caused by a liver disease.
Krueger also uses her powers of observation and nurturing nature as a hobby. She makes gemstone jewelry, creating pieces based on the metaphysical properties of each stone and what she perceives are each individual’s needs.
A friend wore one piece – a turquoise, garnet and crystal necklace – while going through cancer treatment. Turquoise is considered a healing stone and fit her friend’s Native American background, said Krueger, noting that garnet is for wisdom and courage while crystals represent clarity.
“She said whenever she wore it she did better with her treatments,” said Krueger, adding that whether or not the stones have those properties, just believing can be helpful.
It was helpful for her when she made herself a coral necklace with sandy pearls and smoky quartz last summer to wear while undergoing tests on a large lump in her breast. The red coral attracted her, and she chose pearls for wisdom and smoky quartz for good fortune.
“These doctors were saying, ‘We are pretty sure you have breast cancer.’ I didn’t think I did,” she recalled. “I wore it until I heard the news that I didn’t have cancer.”
Krueger hastens to add that as a good nurse she goes to the doctor. She had multiple mammograms, ultrasounds and a core biopsy. The jewelry, she said, is similar to using organic or naturopathic methods to supplement traditional medicine.
This holistic, optimistic approach is evident in her approach to life in general, not just health. “I’m not so Pollyanna to ignore something big and say everything will be fine. But I do think that every experience, whether you see it as good or negative, ends up being a lesson learned.”
“Everybody is a complicated person and has value. The more people you meet, the better off you are,” she said. “I would agree everybody does have their own story.”