The Gift of Hearing Others’ Stories
In my work as a magazine writer, I interview people from all walks of life. We sit down, often in their living rooms or offices or a nearby coffee shop. I pull out my notebook and push record on my phone app, and out flow the stories. The big moments and the small. The times that made someone laugh or changed their lives. The challenges, the triumphs, the failures, I hear it all.
It’s my favorite part of my job.
These stories become part of me. They walk around in my head. They help guide my decisions and orient my inner compass. When my first reaction to a circumstance is to judge or feel anger, I can often bring to mind an actual person whose life reminds me that there are different ways to see the same situation and different ways to respond to it.
Long after my articles have been written and my notes filed away, I find myself thinking: How did she solve her problem? What kept him strong when he was challenged? How did they survive the unthinkable? I refer back to these conversations to help me understand my world.
Over the last few months, I’m finding these strangers’ stories are moving me more than ever. Maybe because my social network has shrunk so dramatically over the past year — I’m not having nearly as many chats at the grocery store or while picking my kids up from various activities. Maybe because I’ve interviewed more people than usual lately. Or maybe because of an internal shift, where I’m understanding that the whole “us” versus “them” mentality is really a made-up source of stress.
Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for them.
These days, I’m finding my new appreciation for others’ stories has begun to influence all my conversations — with family and friends and the few acquaintances I might find myself talking to.
I’m more interested in hearing what’s going on in a friend’s life than I am in trading niceties. I’m more willing to stay long rather than dash off to the next thing.
I guess that’s the point I’m hoping to make: Taking the time to ask about someone’s day, someone’s life, and patiently listening to the answer, can be a reward not only to the speaker but to the hearer as well.
When we receive others’ stories, it makes us wiser and kinder and more able to shake away the divides that have needlessly separated us for so long.
I have often envied people who naturally see the good in everyone they meet. That doesn’t come so easily to me. But I’m realizing that every time I hear someone’s story, I am more able to see her humanity and how the two of us are not so different from each other and how much I have to learn from her lived experience.
So as spring warms our days and vaccines open our lives to others again, here’s my Year of COVID takeaway. Let’s ask sincerely of each other: What’s going on in your life these days? And let’s give ourselves the gift of truly listening to the answers.
For Easter, my family will be heating oil, cheese and chocolate to dip all manner of bite-sized foods into our new fondue pot. Deciding to make fondue at home felt like a nod to all the restaurant experiences we’ve missed in the past year and to all the gatherings we’re hoping to host at home in the very near future….
I’ve enjoyed sharing my recipes on this website.
In the Roanoke Change Academy’s first book discussion of The Cooking Gene, we talked black-eyed peas and food as repository of memory and we took in the enormity of what author Michael Twitty did when he traced his roots back eight generations — all the way to Africa. We’ve got four more weeks of discovery. Feel free to virtually drop by any Monday. All you need to do is register here.
Writing the story of this amazingly resilient mother/healer/sage taught me life lessons I’ll be carrying around for awhile. And interviewing these mother-daughter duos showed me the joy that can come about when family works together. Head here to read The Roanoker’s March/April issue online. Or, if you live in Southwest Virginia, pick up a copy where magazines are sold to support local journalism.
Upcoming books you won’t want to miss. Jungalow is Justina Blakeney’s latest project — a beautiful, inspiring way to design a home, or view the world. And The Secret Ingredient Cookbook, a fun twist on many of your favorite dishes.
I’ve written before about Bookshop.org, a newish way to order the titles you’re looking for online that benefits local bookstores. Now, I’m taking advantage of another way they’re working to keep book conversations wide-reaching and interesting. I’ve opened a “shop” at Bookshop.org, which is really a page of book recommendations. If you head here, you can see the titles I’ve recommended in earlier Nourishing Stories newsletters as well as book club picks and all-time favorites. Message me if there are other categories you’d like to see in an upcoming book list. Happy Reading!