I come from a family of collectors. My grandfather was an art collector; my mother collects early American spatter ware, beaded handbags and costume jewelry. My sister got the bug too, and now her house looks just like Mom’s — little vases and antique picture frames scattered all over the place.
Me: I don’t collect things. I collect stories. My own and other peoples’. I believe stories are what connect us to one another – bridging the things that normally divide people such as race and gender; differences of opinion and spans of time.
Some stories take time before we are ready to tell them. For me, it was a near-fatal car accident several years back. A woman jaywalked behind an oncoming truck and crossed directly in front of my car. It struck her and she landed on my windshield — smashing it into a spider web of cracks. I screamed for what felt like an eternity, and quickly pulled over — my entire body trembling, petrified as to what I would find. In what can only be called a miracle, she emerged with minor injuries. However, the shock of what happened stayed with me, reminding me of how fragile and fleeting life is.
Six hours later I boarded a flight to Prague.
During that flight, I mentally replayed the incident a million times over until the man in the seat next to mine interrupted it with friendly conversation. On that day my seatmate told me the following story —
Ten years earlier he had been in a head-on collision with another car. The other driver was a woman. As they waited for help to arrive, the woman had died. My seatmate told me this in a calm voice, full of resignation, ending with the thought that there is only so much in life you can control; the rest is up to fate.
The striking thing about this incident is that I never shared my own experience from earlier in the day. But somehow I felt like I was meant to hear his words — and at that very moment. It was like hearing my future self at the other end of something my present self was struggling with, reassuring me that I would eventually be okay.
This is what stories do. They connect people who otherwise might not have anything in common. And they make us feel less alone. A story is much more than just a story. It is a window, a legacy, a reassurance and a bond.
In no other time has communication become so fast and easy. Cell phones, emails, and text messaging make for instantaneous connection from one person to the next. We connect. But are we connecting?
Despite the advancement in how we communicate, storytelling remains the most powerful vehicle for what we communicate. We cannot lose sight of this gift: to tell our stories, and listen to the stories of others. Not if we want to relate in a deeper, more meaningful way. This I believe.
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