I’ll let you all in on a secret (those of you who know me, you know this): I’ve spent a good part of my adult life feeling quite sure that I didn’t enjoy being around other people all that much, with exceptions made for a few good friends and a few family members. I was sort of proud of it, the way I kept myself to myself. My free time, when I had it, was most often spent alone, and I liked it that way.
But as time went on, I was forced to admit that on the flip side of my personality I’m a bit of a social butterfly. I inherited that trait from my grandmother, and I’m learning to treasure it as much as the ruby ring she left for me. She was always the one who made everyone feel at ease. She couldn’t have a good time unless she was certain everyone else was, also. I’ve grown (am still growing) into this part of myself. It feels uncomfortable at times, and is certainly not without its embarrassing moments. (There’s that whole awkward, quiet side of me that trips up my confidence often enough.)
Don’t get me wrong. I still like to be alone. I need it as much as I need almost anything. But I’m starting to become quite fond of more than just a few of you. (Quite a lot of you, actually. And not just you, here, but a good number of people I come across when I leave my house.)
It’s not just a need for adult company, though that is definitely the case after almost a decade of hanging out with the under-10 set. But the thing that has changed, the thing I was too arrogant to recognize before, is that I really do like to hear other people’s stories. Of course, it helps when they’re entertaining or poignant or startling, but those aren’t essentials. Sometimes a story that isn’t showy at all can stay with me longer than one with fireworks to it. We all have to get through life somehow, and though there’s something moving about the aggregate accomplishment of that and the solidarity that we feel when we recognize we’re a tiny part of something bigger, the close look is the one that is most interesting to me.
The stories are one of the prizes we get to claim in life, and we don’t even have to wait to the end of the party for them, like door prizes. We collect them. We make them. We pretty them up, or dress them down, or scuff the edges of them for effect. Sometimes we can even change the way they turn out, as we’re living them, if that needs doing.
Sure, the laugh or the heartbreak exists even without the telling of it, and there are things we never tell to anyone, because there’s no way to get it right, no way to explain them in a way that would be understood. It’s impossible to completely know another person, and that’s how it is and as it should be. But the telling of our stories closes a circle that won’t close any other way. It’s how we know each other, as surely as we recognize a person by the shape of his face or the sound of her voice. It’s how we know we’re probably not so much crazier than the next guy. How we know we’re all a bit odd, that we’re all broken. The stories of the bruises and the scars and the laugh lines are what make us interesting.
Stories are how we know each other, how we recognize another soul like our own. It’s a lonely life if we don’t have at least that much, if we go through the hell of it and the sweetness of it without a way to share it all.
I’m not saying that I won’t screen my calls from time to time, or that I won’t come close to peeling rubber next time I go for a long drive by myself. But at the end of that drive, when I’m at the table next to you at the diner, don’t be afraid to say hi.
Especially if you have a good story to tell.