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Our stories are gifts

Updated: Mar 26


I've spent the past two years talking about my story, as part of the tour for my memoir, “It's Hard Being You.”


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” a quote from the author Joan Didion, is the epigraph for my book, and it's been my privilege to meet many people who have amplified the truth of that statement profoundly.


I'm not the only one who's come to realize that we must take what happens to us and find a place for it in our life stories. Either that, or we bury what happens to us and a part of us dies in that process.


Along the way I met Dr. Katie Strong, an associate professor at Central Michigan University, who helps people with aphasia – which can greatly impair speech and cognition – tell their stories of loss and limits. And survival. Which, of course, is right up my alley.


Strong is a big believer in the fact that stories are gifts that the speaker gives the listener. I love this thought because it highlights the importance, indeed the imperative, of listening. Which, as anyone who's struggled to communicate knows well, is an ongoing challenge in the cacophony of the world.


Recently I've had the distinct honor of receiving “story gifts” from friends, relatives, and even people at book events brave enough to share their stories with me. Perhaps like you, I don't always recognize these gifts, but this time I did.


Late one recent night, a cousin told me that her beloved husband of fifty-plus years had just died – in his favorite chair, having suffered with ALS and ready to move on. What a gift it was for her to share that heartbreaking news with me, through her tears.


Then there's the friend who lives far away, but who has sent me updates every week of what's going on in her life – the major events and the mundane – and I have responded likewise. What a gift those missives are.


And at a book event, a reader teared up telling me how it felt to have a child diagnosed with a learning disability, and the struggle to help her read. “I hear you,” I said. And I really did.


Or little, intimate asides, shared with a hug for emphasis, when events are spinning all around. Those are treasures, too.


It's an honor to listen to one another. Let's try to do it more often.


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Jim Barry
Jim Barry
Mar 27

Thank you for this “story about stories,” Sharon.

Replying to

Thanks, Jim. As you know, the most important stories to tell are often the hardest. I cherish the brave storytellers!


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