Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The storyteller

A few years ago I worked for the American Red Cross.  I was the director of the AIDS Education and Information Program in Northern Utah.  It was a job that I loved.  My work week often ran into 60+ hours.  It  could be exhausting, frustrating, always interesting, and often gut wrenching.

I used to tell stories as a part of my living.  They were true stories about the families I worked with. Some of them amusing, many of them inspiring, most of them sad.

It became important to me that my audience didn't remember them as "Caryn's stories", or as "other people's stories",  but that they realized that they were our stories... their's and mine.   Each one of us gathered together any given day could have easiily stepped into one of the roles in every story that I told.  I wanted them to ponder the part they would have played.  Could they have taken a bow for the lines they spoke?  Would their mothers, their spouses, their children have applauded their performance?  Would they have been pleased to have me use their name as I shared their part with an audience? 

It amazes me how many times we're remembered for something we've done that seemed so insignificant to us.  The phone call we did or didn't make.  The helping hand or listening ear we did, or didn't offer.  The times we did or didn't defend a neighbor's reputation when we heard something unkind said about them... The times we did or didn't share a tender thought we had about someone.

I'm not going to say that we need to get wrapped up in how important we are... but, I do wonder if many of us realize the impact we have on the people who move through our lives.  I still remember the way I pranced throughout the remainder of the day when a total stranger, an older gentleman, pulled up next to me at a stop sign and yelled through my open window, "You are one very pretty feminine, young lady".  It was so random, so completely unexpected.  A gift freely given to me by someone who just spontaneously blew a verbal kiss to a girl he never expected to see again.   As the light turned green, he turned left and drove out of my vision and into my memory.  It changed me.  My fear of saying something nice to someone I didn't know magically disappeared along with his yellow convertible. 

My mother had taught me since I was tiny to "Be nice... to everyone... all of the time....twice as nice as you think you ought to be."  "Say something kind to at least three people every day."  She had voiced those words to me thousands of times, and given me a constant and consistent example to follow.  She lived what she taught.  I understood the concept.  What I didn't understand was how important it could be to those that I gave a kind word to.  Not until a sunny, California summer day when someone I didn't know noticed me and told me he thought I was a girly girl, said out loud that he thought I was pretty, then drove away. 

I think if I knew his name, and used it in telling this story... he could feel good about the role he played.  He could take a bow.  I would , and do, applaud him.