Topper Steinman/Voices: We all have a story to tell

Topper Steinman/Voices: We all have a story to tell


I grew up in a small corner grocery store in Freeport. My parents were Depression-era parents. We lived frugally — and small. My younger brother and I shared a bunk-bed room where we couldn't walk beside each other in the room — it was too small. My older sister had to deal with a closet for her bedroom — her brothers took her "extra" space. We took one vacation in the 18 years I was home ... to the Wisconsin Dells for two nights and three days. We left after one night. My dad ran out of money. We knew no different than the life we lived. It was a good life made great by the incredible "village" that surrounded me.

My wife is one of two daughters of similar parents — with no silver spoon in her upbringing. My father-in-law was a Pearl Harbor survivor. My mother-in-law was a proud military wife who loved her family. I have no father-in-law nor mother-in-law jokes to tell. They loved me, and I loved them.

You may have grown up in more luxury or more lean. Mine is not a story of "victim-ness" — I don't cotton much to "victim-ese." This is what prompts this entry. We all have a story to tell.

Tonight, I took out the garbage and the recycle bin from our garage — with a present of Fannie May on top of the cans for our garbage and recycle folks to claim in the morning. My parents taught me this. No one is too big or too small to be ignored in the ladder of life. All of us matter! And doses of "please" and "thank you" still matter in our very complex world.

On the trek to the garbage takeout, I saw and hugged our neighbor. He is a wonderful, young Hispanic male who watches his elderly relative. I am guessing we grew up in different worlds. I have great respect for who and what this young man is and what he does.

He works, he cares, he's human, and he contributes to the beauty of all that is American — and World-an.

At a time when our country is in some turmoil (we grew up in turmoil!), I share this (again!) — we all have a story to tell. We are naturally born citizens, Ellis Island immigrants, descendants from slave ships, here on student visas, Dreamers, offspring of staunch Republicans, staunch Democrats, and everything in between.

Rarely are our stories those that come with a Lifetime TV and/or Hollywood process and ending. Through the ages midst our stories, we have learned to forge on, to build underground railroads, to get beyond the physical or emotional walls that bind us. We have learned to build bridges and to make life work. We have learned to listen to each other, to confront each other, to craft resolutions with each other when it looks like resolutions cannot work. Or have we? And we live to see another day. Our job now is to determine the quality of that "day."

My hope for us this year and all "nexts": Let us recognize the beauty and the beast of each other and our "stories."

Whether we like it or not, they have become our roots and our wings. Let us learn to live with and in the humanity and the reality of the diversity of the stories of each other. And where disconnects happen, that's life. Let us learn to live and to move on — humanly, contentiously and resolutely. These are the ties that bind our disconnects to be connected; and our worlds, large and small, to exist in some semblance of peace.

Topper Steinman is an educational consultant in Champaign-Urbana. His email is

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion