I sat across the table from a gentleman with slumped shoulders and a cardigan. He wore his more than 80 years on his wrinkled face. Beside him was another similar-looking man who was putting ketchup on his onion rings, and beside him was a grey-haired woman. The seats at our rectangular table were full of these people. Other than my presence on this day, it was just like every other lunchtime at the assisted living facility. I was there to visit my grandmother and I was grateful that her table-mates had allowed me to disrupt their meticulous routine.
The conversation was sparse. Actually it was mostly focused on the fact that because of my presence, we were short one bowl of tapioca. I offered to part with mine, but they wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, the woman with the walker slowly made her way to the kitchen to request another cup of pudding. This is how they did things at their table, and I wasn’t about to argue.
I was so intrigued with them all. After the tapioca situation was resolved I listened to the snippets of conversation between these weathered friends. One man had finally sold his home. His children had helped work with the realtor and now finally their father could rest assured he was officially living in his last earthly residence. Others talked about their grandchildren, their health, and their plans to play BINGO or dominoes later in the day.
The mealtime came to an end and they all slowly rose and shuffled away, but I wish they would have stayed longer. I wanted to hear more. These people had lived so much more life than I had. They each had so much history and so many stories that I would have loved to hear.
How many children did they have? How long had they been widowed? Did they serve in the war? What were their occupations as young people? How did they fall in love? What were their biggest regrets and greatest accomplishments?
So many stories… yet, so little tapioca.
That mealtime reminded me how much I love to hear about people’s lives. I love true stories. Just as I could have sat there all day listening to those senior citizens share, I could spend hours reading or watching biographies. There is so much to be learned from hearing about other people’s lives.
Stories make things real. Stories pull us all in and level the field so that we can find ways to relate and understand.
Stories are powerful.
But, sometimes we shy away from telling our stories.
We may think it’s fun to hear the stories of others, but we don’t see the value in sharing our own.
Does anyone really want to hear about my childhood? Is there any benefit in sharing about the way my husband and I met and fell in love? Can I really help another mother who has a child dealing with the same disease that plagued my son? Does sharing about my frustrations with the daily, mundane tasks of being a wife and mother really touch another’s heart?
I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.
Even if we don’t think our stories are special, they may be special to someone else. They connect us to people in a real way instead of through a virtual network or screen. They strip away the fronts and perceptions and make things real. And we like that, because life is real.
When I hear a girlfriend talk about the fatigue she feels from disciplining the same child for the same issue day in and day out, I’m encouraged. I’m reminded that I’m not alone.
When I hear an older woman tell me her love story and how she was married to the same man for decades, I’m inspired. I’m reminded that I can strive for a stronger marriage and deeper love.
When I hear a mentor share about their weaknesses and fears, I’m uplifted. I’m reminded that no one is perfect and we all deal with failures and pain.
When I hear a friend share about their loss and heartache, I’m broken. I’m reminded that I need to help carry the burdens of others and reach out to those who are hurting.
It doesn’t really matter if the people who are telling the stories are old, wrinkled, young, trendy, close friends or a new acquaintances. They may be wearing a cardigan, hospital gown, mom jeans or a jersey. It doesn’t really matter. I want to listen. And when the opportunity arises, I want to share my story too.
Sharing our stories helps us live better stories.
And sometimes you even get a bowl of tapioca to top it all off.