Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stories: the blessings of sharing and listening.

I tend to call myself an old soul, a twenty-something who's never been moved to rebel in those typical teenage or twenty-something fashions. Mine is a heart that chooses quiet and calm and hot tea and small gatherings and jazz over loud and restless and beer and frat parties and techno. It's simply how I'm wired. (INFJ for the win!)

Maybe it's because my heart is wired this way that I find myself drawn to inter-generational experiences, moments with folks younger and older than me, as often as I can get them. Maybe it's because I've gotten to grow up with my grandparents, who have told me their stories and made me feel safe to tell mine - and now I'm watching my teenage cousins grow up when I can remember the day they were born (oh lord).

Maybe it's because every single one of my church and worship experiences - from my home congregation in Atlanta to my little stone church in Norwich, England - have given me relationships with folks who have more life experiences than I do, but who treat me as an equal and make me laugh and give me great hope for my future and gratitude for my present. I will never forget nor stop cherishing the memories of my Sundays in that Norwich chapel, when so many kind grandmotherly and grandfatherly faces in the aging congregation made sure to invite me to the fellowship hall for tea and biscuits after worship.

Maybe it's a combination of all of these elements.

Regardless of my personality or my background or anything else that draws me to these interactions, it's something I wish everyone would strive for - these connections with people who perhaps didn't grow up in the same decade we did, perhaps are on a different stop on their life map, but with whom we can discover wonderfully similar moments or memories. That good ol' universal experience of simply being human.

I've read articles over the last several years, one as recently as last month, which discuss my generation's "bad luck" (September 11, the recession and sluggish economy, climate change, pick your poison) and how we're dealing with it, or how we might deal with it in the future when we really get our hold on this world in the next decades. I know that the unwritten (okay, sometimes written) Rule #1 of the Internet is Never Read The Comments, Dammit!!!!!! Okay, fine, I asked for it. I read these comments and all I see are defensive Millennials and nagging Baby Boomers and Gen Xers squawking in between, no one taking the time to listen to each other (I know, I know, it's an Internet article) or respect the different experiences we've had, and no one taking the time to stop, take a breath, and realize our similarities. 

In September, I began attending a writing workshop at the local university, a continuing education course open to the community. There are nine of us in my class, plus our instructor. For three hours once a month, we all gather around a table in a college classroom with big windows looking out into the trees, and read our words. As if reading what you've written out loud for an audience who is looking to critique your work isn't scary enough, we are writing memoir. The sentences and paragraphs we share are moments from our own lives, deeply personal and defining, intricate to our identities. It's kind of amazing how much trust needs to be present in that room to make it happen - especially since many of us had not met before we began this class. But now I consider them friends and peers.

That's the coolest thing. Perhaps in another arena, my classmates would not be seen as my "peers." I'm the youngest by far, surrounded by folks my parents' ages and older, yet another crop of wonderful and interesting people who have had fascinating lives. And now they're writing about them. Several are retired; they want to share their stories with their families, or simply write them down for their own meaning and enjoyment. Some recollections are easy and light to tell, making us chuckle as we scribble down feedback in the margins; others are gut-wrenching, and there is stoic silence as the reader's voice echoes off the walls - the reader, the person who actually lived this sorrow.

Since I'm the youngest, I have a much smaller span of "past" to work with than they - but that doesn't stop me, and it doesn't bother them. I have found such satisfaction and meaning in sharing my work with them, memories of college and the transition out of it (to date, one of my most harrowing times - just head on back to my blog posts from September 2010. Enjoy that angst-fest.). I know that they identify with elements of my experience, but when they don't, or if I use a piece of lingo they don't understand, they ask, always curious, and I explain, and they are delighted or ask more questions. And when I hear their stories, the same is true.

We treat each other with the same sense of balance, of encouragement and fascination, this blessing of hearing stories out of the mouths of those who lived them, no matter the time or place. In this crazy plugged-in spinning chaos of a world that we live in, it seems like this doesn't happen as much as it should, given how connected we claim to be. I find I have come to hold these stories, stories of my peers that I don't know outside of these monthly meetings, on par with the sacredness of my own. I know they would say the same. And perhaps the fact that they were once strangers makes it all the more sacred. What if we could let down boundaries of age, generation, location, position, inspiration, race, religion, and simply be open to the memories and moments of a stranger?

You never know where that new story could begin.

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