Saturday, June 30, 2012

When stories find us

I am at the National Storytelling Conference, a wonderful annual gathering of tellers from all walks of life and all range of experience. It's a great opportunity to hear stories, hone skills and meet new friends.

Truth to tell, I didn't really want to come. I've been very busy and was yearning for a quiet weekend at home. I knew once I got here I'd be glad, but wow, was I grumpy. And when you set out on a journey with that kind of attitude, you are guaranteed a different journey than the one you expect.

On Friday I packed my suitcase and called the cab, thinking if nothing else I'd have a chance to get some writing or reading done on the way.

You know what's coming.

My cabbie was great. Not only did he find a good route from my home to the airport, he loved to talk. And he loved to talk about food. From the moment I got into the cab until he dropped me off at the terminal he was telling me about all the hidden gems in the greater Boston area that I had never found, so many places I couldn't remember them all and started taking notes. He was a man on a mission to share his delight in the delicious.

Okay, so I got to the airport and thought Now I'll have some quiet time. I can read or maybe even write a little. This might have worked had a four-year old not decided that I was her personal plaything. I don't know about you, but a joyful four-year old isn't something generally I want to resist. We played until it was time to board.

Great, I thought, no one is sitting next to me. Now I can read and write a little. Two minutes before the plane door was to be closed, a man ran on board. He huffed and puffed his way down the aisle and plopped next to me, apologizing for being breathless and sweaty. And then he told me he was late because of trafficit'snotlikethatinSpokanehe'sonhiswayhomeaftertwomonthsherebuildingan additionforhiscousinwhowasparalyzedinacarcrash. And then he took a breath. We introduced ourselves. For the next three hours, he told me his story. He told me about his family, his 20-year old cousin who would never walk again. The blueberry farm she grew up on. His mother, his girlfriend, his girlfriend's kids, his photography hobby. By the time we were looking at his photos on his laptop (they were very good) I gave up on reading or writing until sometime next week.

At the airport we shook hands, wished each other the best of luck and I got into my next cab to hear about life in Somalia, African family structure and social safety nets, children and cooking and wives and....

By the time I got to the conference I was already full of stories and warmed up to hear more.

The universe conspired against me, against my grumpy mood and yearning to be alone. I have been reminded of both the power and the pervasiveness of story. It's inescapable, at the conference (for three days I am immersed in the language of story and surrounded by those as passionate about it as I am) and beyond. 

Now, I know story matters. I know we are surrounded by stories, in our bodies, our minds, our architecture, the planet itself. Everything we do has the potential for story. But sometimes, like everyone else, I get caught up in my own crap and overlook the incredible richness and human need for story. I need a whack. My journey here was one whack after another. Duly noted.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer

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  1. And of course, there are those who repel stories and those who invite them -- the Receivers, the gracious listeners, the givers. You dat kind.

  2. When the universe shouts out "Listen!" you did and found stories no matter where you were or what you thought you wanted to do. Sometimes the universe shouts, sometimes it comes in a whisper, and sometimes there is only silence. But the message is the same "Pay attention." Thank you for sharing the "whacks" with us. Gail


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