She walked right up to me. I think she was in 8th grade.
“Can I ask you a question?” she wondered.
“Do they cry? These people you interview?”
Often, I told her…and so do I. There is something powerful about an open and honest exchange. When you give someone your full attention and make it clear that what they have to say is important, it can be a moving experience.
“I’m Syrian,” she said, “and sometimes when I am talking to older Syrians, they start to cry and it’s uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do.”
Just keep listening, I said. They have a lot to cry about. I know it can be awkward, but it’s also what makes us human. This is how we connect and this is how we let people know we care.
Later that same day a parent stopped me in the exhibit. “My son heard you talk yesterday, and when he came home, he told about it. He talked about Penina Bowman’s story and how she lost so much going through the Holocaust, but she chose not to hate.”
We visited a little more, and she was leaving, she added, “He never talks about what happens at school…but this story stuck with him and he wanted to tell me…I just wanted you to know.”
Today, at a new school and in a new state, I was setting up the exhibit when another student approached me and said, “I have a weird question,” and I replied, “I probably have weird answer.”
She wanted to know if I ever took suggestions about people I should interview.
All the time.
She spent time backpacking through Alaska last summer and came to a remote village where she met an old Native man who remembered the time the first white people arrived in the area. He’s the only person in the village who still speaks their traditional language and he told her he felt like he was put on this Earth to close the door on his culture.
“It was such a powerful encounter,” she said. “I just want his story told.”
And I was surprised when another student opened with, “I already know you.”
She’d found our Instagram feed a year ago and has been following it ever since. “The stories make me feel like I’m not alone,” she said. “I see other people who have gone through the same things, and I can see that they made it through.”
We crave connections, but we struggle to make them. Stories can bring us together. I see it happen every day…and when the road makes me weary, it’s the thing that keeps me going.