A Good Story

#365 Gratefuls. That wearing my shoes still provides the loudest giggles

It must have been about thirteen years ago that I sat in my backyard in Jakarta, glass of wine in one hand, telephone in the other. My friend Tim and I were both boozed and ready for a chat. I was in a world of small babies, a travelling husband and filled with questions about what was going to happen in my life. Where was my career going? At the time I was on maternity leave, but I knew we weren’t going to get back to Perth by the deadline.

“What would you do if you could do anything?” Tim was trying to help.

I was four glasses of wine into the conversation, my frontal lobe clear of embarassment and open to sharing, I blurted out “I’d love to interview ordinary people, you know like people you meet when you’re sitting on the plane or at the doctors surgery. Just normal people with stories.”

Tim, a marketer, couldn’t really envisage how it was going to work. Without an ounce of conviction he replied weakly “right, yeah, that’d be cool.” I was embarrassed. It was a stupid dream, and I’d made the mistake of saying it out loud. Me a no-one, talking to other no-ones. Who did I think I was?

Pre blog, pre Facebook, pre podcast: the people who told stories were published authors, journalists, people with qualifications and credibility. There was nothing I could find at the time in mainstream media that was showing me the everyday. Sure, there was a snippet here and there, Andrew Denton had dipped his toe into the world of ordinary people on the telly, but I wanted more of that. More butchers, more teachers, more taxi drivers.

Years later when I was in Canada, I flicked my way through the radio stations while driving home from the supermarket and landed in the middle of  This American Life. From then on I’d time my trips to allow me to listen in on the tales of the ordinary. Tears streaming down my face at the story between a father and his daughter, laughter at David Sedaris talking of his time as a Christmas Elf at Macy’s. And within the next couple of years it seemed that there were stories everywhere.  Blogs began to sprout, podcasts were made, and every day people shared everyday stories. Sometimes the use of words weren’t necessary. A stream of pictures could tell a story of love, pain and loss – stories like this.

I made a new friend the other day. We met like many parents do, children in tow, looking lost as we struggled to find the designated area we’d read about in an email. I thought I knew where to go and suggested we walk together, two Australian women on a mission to find baseball practice. As we walked and talked I felt immediately at ease, I really liked her and began laughing along at her familiar sense of humor. With children who stretched over a wide age range, I commented on the fact that she had one in University and a baby at home. She giggled, talked of her husband’s age and said “yeah because that’s what you really need like a hole in the head when you’re 50, a baby!” We both laughed, and somewhere mid giggle as we made our way across the field her voice softened as she explained the nine miscarriages between the third and fourth child. I felt my chest tighten, a tug of the heart. Every baby is wanted by someone, but some babies are yearned for.

As children ran bases, caught balls and swung bats, introductions were made. Immediately, as expats do, previous locations were identified, nationalities discussed, and schools considered. I listened as a woman spoke of her husband in Afghanistan and the length of time they’d had to spend apart. Jokes were made to lighten the situation, but the reality was a woman standing on a school oval with a husband miles away who she hoped was safe. He had a year to go, there was a safer posting in his future, they’d all be back together again. “We just have to get through the next year and then we’ll be okay”. I smiled, nodded, the conversation moved on.

Ordinary people. Ordinary stories. We’re surrounded by them. Stories of love, loss, pain and happiness.

I love those stories.

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