Last weekend I had the privilege of being one of the featured authors who spoke at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland. I talked about how stories—all of our stories—connect us to one another and to the characters in our books.
When I was young, my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved six times between Kindergarten and my senior year of high school. I know what it’s like to be the new kid in class—it’s scary and foreign and mortifying until that very first friend reaches out and invites you into your new world. Day by day, you learn to feel your way through the new slang and customs and social landscape until one day you find that you’re no longer muddling through; you’re striding.
While I was writing FLYING THE DRAGON, I took this kernel of emotion that I’d carefully wrapped and tucked away and I opened it up. I turned it over in my hands, held it up to the light, remembered its texture. I then carefully wrapped it back up and gave it to Hiroshi, one of my main characters who moves from Japan to the U.S., knows no English, and has no friends on his first day of school. I am not Japanese, like Hiroshi, nor have I ever had to go to a school where I didn’t speak the language. To look at the two of us, side by side, you might think that we have nothing in common. But, of course, we do. We know what it’s like to be the new kid, to feel different, to miss the friends we left behind and wonder if we’ll find a true friend in our new town. He and I are connected by a common truth.
We humans are story-tellers by nature. We hear stories about infamous great uncles and dream vacations and the neighbor’s new puppies. We hear stories that make us laugh, cry and that renew our faith in people. We share stories around the dinner table, in the car, and in line at the grocery store. We are story-tellers by nature because stories are what connect us to one another.
Whenever my dad starts telling a familiar family story, my mother will often remind him that we’ve heard that tale a hundred times before. But I always tell him to finish those stories. Because it’s not the details that he’s sharing, it’s the emotion wrapped inside the details—humor or sadness, wistfulness or joy. And it’s in the telling that we feel what he feels; it’s the telling that connects us.
The next time you tell a story to someone, watch and see what happens next. As it usually goes, that person will go on to share a story that has a connection to yours, the same kernel of truth.
On this Memorial Day holiday, I hope you take time to remember a story and share it with someone you love. It might be a story you heard on the radio that touched you, or a story that’s been passed down in your family for years. Or maybe it’s a story about your childhood that your own kids haven’t heard yet.
Take time to revel in the connections created by your stories, whether it’s their first telling or one-hundred-and-first.