Telling someone else’s story

One lesson that is mentioned frequently at the songwriting workshops is that a song is a short story. About six or so months into attending these workshops, it struck me that maybe my songs don’t always have to be so personal, maybe I can tell somebody else’s story instead. So at the beginning of 2017, I looked toward one of the stories that was the most meaningful to me in all of my years working at a community newspaper.

In the summer of 2013, a man from Chicago called us to see if the newspaper could help him find his birth daughter. Back in the 1960s, his high school girlfriend got pregnant and to avoid the scorn that came with having a child out of wedlock at that time, her parents sent her to a different state to have the baby. The baby was adopted and after the couple finished high school, they got married and vowed to find their daughter after she turned 18 so they could let her know how loved she was by them.

However, his wife died a day before her 25th birthday, so she never got the chance to reach out to her child. Before she died, her husband promised that he would find their daughter.

We ran an article (“Man seeks birth daughter 49 years after adoption“) about it to help him get the word out, since the baby was born in Arizona. We learned later that the day the article was published, somebody read it and recognized the possibility that a friend’s adopted daughter could have been this man’s birth daughter. Sure enough, it was and the father and daughter were reunited. (“Father finds, plans to meet daughter” and “The Missing Piece of the puzzle” were the follow-up stories.)

The father’s searches through the years came up empty because his in-laws had put incorrect information on his daughter’s birth certificate, which hindered the search. It turned out that his daughter had been searching for her parents for years, too.

During the interview with the daughter in a follow-up story, she mentioned that years earlier during her search for her birth parents, she had written a poem about how she spent her life looking into strangers’ eyes to see if she recognized them. Those words stuck with me and inspired this next song, which is dedicated to this father and daughter.

It wasn’t a choice, it was a situation
Young with no voice, lost in frustration
They sent their daughter away until the baby was born
A new life, a new home, avoiding the scorn

She spent her life searching strangers’ eyes
Praying for someone she would recognize
When she gazed into a stranger’s eyes
She hoped to find her own

The girl grew up in a nice family
But there was something inside that she couldn’t set free
Weaving through a maze, finding altered clues
Dead ends and delays halted her pursuit

She spent her life searching strangers’ eyes
Praying for someone she would recognize
When she looked into a stranger’s eyes
She tried to find her own

I learned that it was tricky to try to include everything in the song and the last verse is a little awkward and too wordy, which was pointed out in the songwriting workshop. Looking back at the song, I would make some changes to the last verse to try to condense it a little.

One day it happened, she received a call
A newspaper article explaining it all
Her parents had wed, exchanging a vow
They would find their daughter, though they weren’t sure how

Her mother died long ago, but her father had never given up hope
Though the separation was long, their connection was strong

This song I would like to come back to and make some changes because it was such an incredible true-life story and I’m so honored that I got to be a part of it, if even in a small way.

She spent her life searching strangers’ eyes
Praying for someone she would recognize
When she looked into this stranger’s eyes
She found her own
She found her home.

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