Right about now, you may be thinking that what you do isn’t very important. After all, in this uneasy, divided world, with threats abounding on so many fronts, what’s the use of telling stories? How important can it be to share our experience, to open our hearts on the page, to put words to passions and feelings and long unexpressed truths?
Let me tell you this, Storyteller. You are more important than ever. Those stories – your stories, my stories, the stories of our sisters and brothers all over the world? They could be the one very important thing that makes all the difference.
The other day I read a newspaper article which quoted a very wise man who said: “The thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issues, its that they have shared stories. If you can learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.”
There is something magical about sharing stories, whether they are bound together in the pages of a book, typed out in an email, scribbled on a notecard, or lovingly penned on fine stationery. Whether fact or fiction, they allow us to enter into the hearts and minds of others and obtain a glimmer of what life is like for someone who might be very different from ourselves. Stories incite compassion and empathy. They provide knowledge and information. They astound and confound.
Most importantly, they connect. They enable us to “forge a relationship that lasts.” My friend Andi Cumbo-Floyd (who writes wonderful stories by the way) recently said: “We tell stories because they connect us to one another in a way that facts and culture and experience sometimes fail to do. They tie us together – barbed and gorgeous as we are – at the heart.”
What we need, my storytelling friend, is to re-connect. In these days when we so often feel at odds with our fellow man and the world seems to be drawn into boxes surrounded by thick black and white lines, what we need it the color and nuance that story provides. We need to have thoughts deeper than those incited by a 140-character Tweet. We need to enter into the world of an African American nurse who is wrongfully accused of manslaughter in the death of one of her patients. (Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult). We need to become acquainted with a young man who grew up poor in a rust belt town but graduated from Yale Law School and wrote a book about it all. (Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance). We need to revisit the the poets and philosophers who wrote of nature and contemplation and knew that mankind was only an tiny speck in the infinite lifespan of this great universe. (Wordsworth, Emerson, Thoreau)
I read another article last week (I’ve been a reading a lot these days, dear storyteller) based on an interview with President Barack Obama. In it, he spoke of the importance of reading and stories throughout his life, and how particularly important it’s been during his tenure as President of the United States. “Fiction is useful …as a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country,” he said. “It’s a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about.”
So, dear storyteller, don’t for one moment think that what you do isn’t valuable, isn’t necessary, isn’t important. People have been telling stories ever since they could scratch symbols into the walls of their caves. This is definitely not the time to stop.
President Obama concluded his interview with these words: “The role of stories is to unify – as opposed to divide – to engage rather than marginalize. It is more important than ever.”
I believe it is certainly more important than ever, my storytelling friend.
Go read stories, and go write stories.
Go out and tell YOUR story – let it echo far and wide.
And make them hear you.*
With love from one storyteller to another,
About the Author: Becca Rowan
Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.
*Make Them Hear You, from the musical Ragtime