Inspired by her grandmother’s friendship, which was built story by story over a series of phone calls, architect Benita Cooper started the first Best Day of My Life So Far group in 2009 in a small borrowed basement office at her local senior center. Let’s listen as Benita tells her personal story:
I love talking with my grandma.
I was slow to start talking to her, and even slower to admit that I love – or no, more than that, that I need – our little conversations. Two weeks before I turned 26, in the summer of 2006, I thought I would call her just to say hello. Had never done that before. We haven’t stopped talking since.
During our phone calls, she would tell me story after story from her past; I would listen – I mean, really listen – because my Chinese is rusty from leaving Hong Kong at the age of twelve. Her stories would transport me from my life as an architect in downtown Philadelphia to the Chinese village where she was born, the budding city of Hong Kong where she survived a world war and raised eleven children, and her suburban home in Seattle where she lives now.
At the end of our first phone call, I said my mom, aunts and uncles must be amazed by her stories. “No one knows any of this,” she said. “No one knows because no one asks.” She told me I was silly for finding her special. When I asked whether I could call her back regularly to hear more stories, she burst into the happiest laugh I had ever heard. If that sound had a name, it would be “The Best Day of My Life So Far.” It’s what I felt when I heard it. And I felt like it must have been what she was feeling too.
In 2008, with the country in recession, I looked around me and saw many people depressed over the loss of money and jobs. But my friendship with my grandma has shown me a small cross-cultural, cross-generational truth: in life, it is relationships, not things, not money, which matter the most – and stories may just be the most powerful key to genuine relationships. I needed to share this secret with other people, old and young.
I approached the Philadelphia Senior Center, near where I lived, with the idea of a storytelling and writing workshop. They had no room to spare, so I worked it out with the director to borrow a staff member’s basement office during his lunch hour every Thursday, for just six weeks. Our first session was September 24, 2009. Soon, the older adults started calling our sessions “Partytime”. Besides showing up to laugh and cry with this marvelous cocoon of eager storytellers every week, I started a blog to share their stories and reflect on what happened during our partytime.
By October 15, my older buds timidly asked that I continue the group beyond the initially intended six weeks. Without the pause of a breath, I said, “YES!” Amazed by how much happier, stronger and more confident our group participants had become in just a matter of weeks, the director and staff member agreed to let us keep using the space.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a quiet miracle began to happen. More and more readers began accessing my older buds’ stories online. Blog readers began sending me moving emails to say how much the stories – and the storytellers’ transformations – have inspired them to live fuller lives or to reach out to their aging parents or grandparents. Some even offered to help me transcribe all the wonderful stories for the blog. A virtual community of younger people began to form, inspired by the stories OUR older buds have to tell…
That little blog was the start of this website, which has brought you and me together here, right now, today! And that little group in the basement was the start of our national network of storytelling groups. Even as our organization expands, I still call my grandma every other night. I just love every minute of it. Every phone call makes it the best day of my life so far, all over again. I hope that reading our older buds’ stories – which you can receive by following us on social media and subscribing to our newsletter – gives you that feeling too.
It means so much to me that you are here. Thank you for reading my story. There’s a little twist to my story that goes back to my childhood – you can check it out HERE.
Now that we’ve officially met (yay!) I would love to keep in touch via social media (Facebook + Instagram @bestdayofmylifesofar, Twitter @bestdaysofar) and our newsletter (sign up HERE) You can always send me a personal email too, with any questions or suggestions.
All my best,
Founder and President
The Best Day of My Life So Far