I’m a coffee shop nomad. A junkie of sorts. Not just of the coffee, but of the whole scene. It fascinates me.
Nearly every day of the week, I’m surrounded by people who have all walked their own road of life. A journey unique to them. And right now, all our roads have converged in this place.
Who are these strangers? What led them here? What twists and turns in life caused them to step through the same coffee shop doorway as I did…on this same day and at this same hour?
I’m always tempted to turn and ask. But I don’t. What would I ask? How would they respond? How do you get someone to tell their own story? Why would they give that up to me? What would I give up in return? How do two strangers meet and exchange something so personal and so sacred as their own stories?
But not just strangers. How do friends and family do the same?
Recently, I’ve discovered just how little I know about my family. My mom and dad, my sister, and my six half-siblings. We’ve all been busy writing our stories, but staying just as busy stacking those stories around us. Keeping most of the details to ourselves.
But why? We’re family, after all. We’ve all found ourselves hanging from the same family tree. Why don’t I know these people better? And how well do they really know me?
My wife and I adopted our son, and it hit me recently: He’s adopting us too. He’s adopting our family stories as his own. What am I going to tell him…about me and about my family? How can I find out more about the tree he’s been grafted into?
I found a show on NPR called StoryCorps the other day that gave me the answer. If you haven’t seen it, watch the video clip below. In short, StoryCorps allows people to preserve a conversation by making an audio recording. It’s fascinating to hear the details that people divulge to one another in these recordings.
And as StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay, put it on that first episode I found:
“You can find the most amazing stories from regular people. All you have to do is ask them about their lives and listen. We can learn so much about the people all around us, even about the people we already know, just by taking the time to have a conversation. And if you pay just a little attention, you’ll find wisdom and poetry in their words.
Most people love to be listened to, because it tells them how much their lives matter.”
And there it was! Some people in my life were hoarding their stories simply because I wasn’t asking about them. They were ready and willing to give them up, if only I’d ask.
And so today, I’m trying to do extend the gift of listening…to my family members, to strangers in coffee shops, to anyone I meet. And I’m happy to give up my story to you as well.