I recently spent some time hanging out with a dozen elementary school students during an after-school reading program. I was their weekly “special guest,” invited to come and share for about twenty minutes–to talk about myself for a little bit and then read something. The program director actually suggested I might want to read something I had written.
I began to think about what it is I “do,” what it is that is the thread connecting the various things I write and the way I see the world.
So I decided to talk about being a storyteller.
I took some samples of my writing and art that don’t seem connected–the journals I keep for each of you, my chapbook of poems, an article I’d written, the interview with Over the Rhine, a canvas I’d painted after hearing a friend’s sadness–and told these second- through fourth-graders that these diverse forms were all ways of telling stories.
And, I told them, they were storytellers, too. They had stories, they were living stories, and they could write stories, or draw stories, or tell stories in their own ways.
I emphasized storytelling as I shared about myself, and I emphasized it by reading some excellent picture books about storytelling and the way our stories are passed between generations of people, and I emphasized it by giving them each a single subject notebook from the dollar store.
I have never seen such excitement over notebooks before, girls. It was amazing.
After showing them their bounty, I didn’t want the message to get lost in the thrill of notebook-choosing. I wanted to remind them of all the things we talked about as ways of storytelling, how they could tell stories, how each of them had a voice that was worth sharing. I said they could write poems, or draw pictures, or journal about their days. And then I asked the group, “What sorts of stories will you write in your new notebooks? What will you write about?”
The first little boy to respond gasped, “MY WHOLE LIFE.”
My whole life.
I loved his answer.
I loved his optimism.
I loved that he actually believed he could write his entire life, all nine years of it.
I loved everything about that afternoon because our lives change when we realize that they are stories, that we are living a story worth telling, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the difficult, the long drudgery of boring seasons, the astounding grace of joyful seasons.
I have the privilege of writing with words, typed into computers, handwritten in notebooks, but even if you aren’t a writer or an artist–and you probably won’t be–you have a story, girls, and not just a story to tell but a story to share.
I believe we’ve all got stories, and we’ve all got ways to share them. It’s about being present in the moment, present with others, present with ourselves. And being thoughtful. Deliberate. Honest.
Maybe you’ll share a piece of your story by listening carefully to a client or a cashier, share your story as you run marathons or build bridges in Africa, share your story as you argue a case in a courtroom or design a website in your pajamas.
No matter your vocation, you’ll have stories. So many stories. But you know what? They’ll all add up to one Story, if you look for it. And when you find it, I hope you share it.
I’m excited about your story.
I’m excited about my story.
I’m excited about our story.
Come along with me.