I’m a writer. I believe that the stories we read and write and tell have the power to shape and change our lives. I believe that – because a story changed my life.
Nine years ago, when I lived in Texas, I visited the lowcountry. It was my first experience here, and it was brief, but we made time for a carriage tour through the historic district of Beaufort. And that’s when I heard a little bit of the story of a man named Robert Smalls. I’d never heard his name, and I’d never heard the story. But he intrigued me. His courage, and his heroism, and his contributions, and legacy intrigued me.
His story ignited my curiosity. Curiosity led to exploration, and exploration led to discovery, and I discovered how little I knew about our history. I discovered how little I understood about the experiences of enslaved people in our country. I discovered that some stories get amplified, while other stories get silenced
To make a long story short, the story of Robert Smalls opened my eyes and my mind and my heart, and moved me across the country because I felt compelled – called – to share his story. We moved to Beaufort so that I could research and write the book, Trouble the Water.
Here’s what I know about stories. Stories connect us.
Stories shape us.
Stories cultivate our compassion. Stories encourage empathy.
Stories can also provoke us – because the stories that shape each of us are all a little different - new stories may provoke us to disagreements and arguments. It can be hard for us to let go of the stories we’ve held dear for our entire lives, stories that we think define us – and when a new story comes along – a story that challenges our old ways of thinking and being, it threatens us. Educators call this cognitive dissonance – that collision of what we thought was true in conflict with new evidence that demands we re-examine it. As uncomfortable as that is – that place where our old narrative intersects with a new one – that’s where learning happens. And it’s real learning, learning that matters, learning that sticks.
Stories help us do that.
Stories change our lives.