By Kelly Hines
This is the truest thing I know: Everyone has a story.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother would often take me shopping. She was an unapologetic shoplifter, who did it more for sport than necessity. Like most things, it was a fact I didn’t realize until I was much older. At the time, I assumed everyone who bought things carried them in their pockets instead of shopping bags.
In between petty thefts and a cafeteria lunch, we’d sit in the mall courtyard and watch people. It was her favorite pastime and, by default, mine, too. “What do you think’s going on there?”, she’d ask. I’d proceed to invent a simple story about the people in front of us.
“It’s their first date,” I’d explain. “He wanted to go to the movies, but she wanted to come to the mall. See how he’s walking just a step behind her? He doesn’t even want to be here.” She’d fold her little arms across her ample belly and smile. Thus encouraged, I’d continue. “She’s not sure she likes him, which is why she didn’t want to go to the movie. She didn’t want to sit in a dark room with him. He’s already tried to hold her hand, but his hands are sweaty and he smells a little bit like Vienna Sausages.” (My two year old brother obsessively ate Vienna Sausages, and it currently topped my list of most disgusting smell ever.) “But,” I continued, “He has a car and she really wanted to go to Peaches and get the new Michael Jackson album.”
My father was a dramatic storyteller. A trip to the grocery store would turn into a tale of love and loss among the produce. His voice was all hard edges and Texas twang, his stories full of extended hyperbole and pregnant pauses as he took long drags from his cigarette and slowly exhaled. Men were always “this old boy” or “this cat”, and he himself was often the hero. He held court at the kitchen table to women who found him charming, men who found him manly, and children who found him both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
He taught me that, sometimes, it was less about the story and more about how it is told.
“Tell me something interesting about yourself.” It’s a common icebreaker game that I’ve found myself subjected to on a number of unfortunate occasions. I hate icebreakers; I hate sitting in a circle of strangers being put on the spot, forced to come up with something spectacular when the most spectacular thing they’ve done recently is go to the grocery store. With luck, there’s no one there who’s heard my line before.
“I have both ridden and eaten a camel,” I say. Pausing for effect, I raise an eyebrow and say, “Not the same one!” There is a unanimous chuckle and I am suddenly exotic, by virtue of something I did nearly twenty years ago.
I love charismatic people. I have people-crushes on a dozen friends and acquaintances, attracted by their substance, magnetized by their delivery. They are the storytellers of their own lives. But equally, I love quiet people. The ones who need to have their story coaxed out of them, gently and over time. It’s like pulling a thread, once it gets going their narrative spills out of them.
We all have stories to tell. Some less dramatic, but all compelling. There is equal honor in heroism and simple kindness, in being a rocket scientist or a parent. There is breadth and depth in all of us, whether we recognize it or not. Our stories are fluid, fascinating, and beautiful, and ours alone.
We all have stories to tell – what is yours?