The importance of discovery is a relative thing, ranging from world-shattering finds of uncharted lands and scientific breakthroughs to the revelations of family secrets or new romance and the novel little personal encounters that amuse and delight in the moment. I enjoyed the latter prior to our ride from Bismarck, North Dakota to the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and our temporary home on a ranch in nearby Spearfish, South Dakota. Waiting for Toni to enjoy her coffee and to craft her blog post in the morning, I perused my digital bookshelves and discovered that my entire library had become available on audio. Eureka!
Listening to great music on my headphones while riding the vast distances and sweeping vistas of the West has always been among my great joys, allowing my thoughts to wander freely and contemplation to nurture ideas for new writing or teaching. The full meaning of thoughts and memories easily unfolds in those caverns of highway rumination. (And then, scores of miles down the road, I wonder - does that make them ruminants, like giraffes and yaks? There, see what I mean?) In any case, after gaining knowledge of this cast audiobook treasure, I determined that the day’s ride would, instead of music, be accompanied by the soothing refrains of a slightly Aussie-tinged female voice narrating my latest-favorite epic fantasy novel. It was delightful.
A several-hour span and scores of mile markers whisked by as the story unfolded. I was swept away on the imagination of the writer, the curves and arcs of the story weaving their ways into the sweeping geometry of the long highway. When we finally stopped and geared down, I was well along in the story and looking forward to continuing it before bed. Though I hadn’t enjoyed the same contemplative frame of mind that a day’s riding to music and the creative perspective that that highway serenade usually offers, the story was captivating. No, that’s not quite it either.
I was devoured by it.
There’s something quintessentially human about storytelling. From antiquity right through to the first Dr. Seuss tale that opens for some lucky kid at bedtime tonight, we are natural-born storytellers and sharers. The best jokes are told as funny stories. We relate our days and lives through their narrative elements, and we bookend our existence with tales ranging from how easy or difficult a birth was to the bittersweet eulogies with which we say goodbye to those we love. The best teachers, I think, are those who capture history, science, and language through storytelling. Certainly, the most engaging elders in our families are those wonderful, eccentric few who can weave a great tale. We all love a great story well told.
Because our mission of collecting love stories is itself a story, I’ve noticed that neither Toni nor I can give a non-narrative answer to any question about our bikes, our journey, or even the patches on our vests. The past week or two, as we’ve gotten closer in time and distance to the Sturgis Rally, folks breaking into conversation invariably ask us, “So, you heading to Sturgis?” We can’t just say, “Yep.” We offer instead what we’re planning on the way there, where we’ve just come from, what we’re hoping to do with Journeys to Love while we’re there. “Yeah, we’ll be there, but we took the long way around through the Gulf States, across the Carolinas, up the east coast, across upstate New York, and around the Great Lakes. Met some amazing people. Had great luck with the weather too, except for the tail end of that hurricane and a hail squall or two! We’ve been through four tires already! There was this one time in Alabama… ” This leads to a longer conversation, of course, and often to handing out business cards, asking for interviews or ideas for story contacts, and word on new routes and ways of getting there, which isn’t accidental, of course.
But there’s a wider reason for our being compelled to share all this, I think. When we - meaning all of us, not just me and Toni - feel we are part of something special, or that we have had a meaningful experience, human nature obliges us to share its story and to affirm its meaning with other humans. And for most folks, once anyone else shares a story, we want to get ours in there as well, because we are all storytellers at heart. When cast together, our tales become shared experiences - a kind of collective wisdom and personality. Where we sometimes don’t complete the equation, though, is in being great storylisteners, and this is yet another thing about which I will be forever grateful for the experience we’ve gained in our Journeys to Love.
When your business is drawing out the stories of others, you have to become a more attentive listener in the moment, honing a more willing and receptive ear, right now, where you are, at any moment. In short, you have to hear...here. Because when people telling their stories recognize that they have a quietly appreciative audience, their stories become richer, more inclusive, and much more intimate. I’m looking forward very much to seeing how becoming a better storylistener will play out in my future classrooms, in my writing, and in becoming who I will be tomorrow. In exploring Journeys to Love, I have also come to more fully appreciate how my and Toni’s story might inspire others. Even more than these, however, is how their stories put ours into better context, not by way of comparison, which is seldom a healthy thing to do in life, but by making sense of our places in the universe of people and relationships we’ve discovered.
As a human being, I am grateful for the stories of others, because we each create all the individual tales that will collectively become the story of all humanity at its end. Though there is conflict and tension, darkness and fear - no story can exist without them, and the overcoming of them - we can, together, weave a truly remarkable tale. And as Toni and I continue to discover, love is what makes it one worth telling.