Editor’s Note: Writings from the Extraordinary Ordinary

Reader’s Digest Editor-in-Chief Liz Vaccariello ruminates on the amazing, touching, and creative entries we received from Your Life Story contest.

Photographed by Melanie Dunea/CPI

I read. A lot. I consume tweets and blogs, magazines and newspapers. From lines of poetry to piles of books, I read out of professional necessity and for pure joy. So it really says something that the most extraordinary work I read in 2011 was the duet of submissions written by New York Times columnist David Brooks. He called them “The Life Reports,” short essays in which readers over 70 evaluated their lives. His roundup revealed themes among his happiest respondents: resilience, a commitment to family, a predilection for risk, and a realization that life gets better decade by decade. “By their 60s, many contributors had found their zone,” he wrote.

I clipped and carried the columns in my bag, e-mailed them to loved ones, and asked a dear friend what she’d have written. Her response was bittersweet. “I realize this is why I don’t live a reflective life,” she wrote back after abandoning the project.

Coincidentally, Reader’s Digest had embarked on a similar effort, asking people to write their life story in 150 words or fewer. The winning (and revealing) essays start on page 106. What struck me about both sets of essays? Whether it’s a child, spouse, parent, or pet, nearly everyone wrote about someone he or she loved.

The pieces are plainspoken, truth-telling testimonials from regular people, folks whom my executive editor Barbara is moved to call the “extraordinary ordinary.”

Folks, that is, like you.

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“Texts Gone Bad,” page 56


“Are You Normal or Nuts?” page 126


“A Grand-mother’s Tale,”

page 142

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest