And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

You Have Something To Say

You don't become a blogger because you think you have nothing to say, but that's how I feel fairly often. It's all been said, anyway, and by better writers than I will ever be. Why would anyone care what I think? Who am I to think that I have a unique thought in my head, anyway?

A big red flag should pop up on my life's screen at that point. Robot should start waving his arms: "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!" Because each of us has something to say (even if we are prone to begin a sentence with conjunctions). Our lives mean something, not just to our families and closest friends. There's no accurate way to gauge it, so you'll just have to take my word for it that you affect people far beyond what you might consider your circle of influence.

Just this week I had cause to request a meeting with an administrator at my grandson's school. He lives with us and didn't want to go to school. That's not uncommon for ten-year-old boys, but when I dug a little deeper, there was an actual reason in the guise of an unhappy classmate who'd decided to take out his unhappiness on my grandson.

As a substitute teacher, I see unhappy teenagers, unhappy tots. And the unhappy tots will eventually turn INTO unhappy teens if no one intervenes. Thus, my compulsion to sit down with an administrator to discuss a solution.

When the gentleman approached to shake my hand and introduced himself, there was a flash of recognition. Don't I know you...? And then he told me his name. He went to school with my sister; instant rapport. Out of all the hundreds of fellow students, I had remembered this man. My sister had always spoken highly and fondly of him, and it was clear that his character had only improved with time.

I bring this up because I hadn't known this man personally. Had never met him, unless he perhaps came to the house for a brief school-related reason. My sister's chance comments, however, had made a lasting impression. And before that, this (then) young man's character had made a lasting impression on her. Interaction with my sister some forty years ago affected interaction with me this week. Because I knew of him a long time ago, liked the outline of his life story enough to tuck it away in my mental filing cabinet, and when the time came, was able to pull out the outline, flesh it out a bit, start filling in details. Not many, but a few. There was a foundation laid, long before we knew we would have reason to appreciate it.

When we moved to Florida, I came across several letters/clippings from a former editor of mine. For some reason we had maintained contact, sometimes interrupted by years and years of silence, and yet there was something about the friendship - and truly, it was a stretch to even use the word - that endured. We have collaborated on a few writing projects, exchanged truly awful jokes, and I consider this once-employer-nothing-more to be one of my closest friends. Why? Because we knew each other a long time ago, liked the outline of each other's life story enough to tuck it away in our mental filing cabinets, and when the time came, were able to pull out those outlines, flesh them out a bit, start filling in details. What had, at one time, seemed major differences paled in comparison to newly discovered similarities and common interests.

Earlier this year, I received a phone call from a younger woman who read my book on the hurts we Because we knew each other a long time ago, liked the outline of each other's life story enough to tuck it away in our mental filing cabinets, and when the time came, were able to pull out those outlines, flesh them out a bit, start filling in details. A trust had been built long before, that time had not eroded.
may receive inside church walls. I hadn't seen her for years, had known her primarily as a child. She had questions,which I tried to answer as best I could. I asked a few questions of my own. She opened up about incredibly hurtful circumstances in her past, things she had never told another living soul. Why?

When I substitute for an age group that can understand the concept, I encourage them to pay attention to the details. The spelling, the punctuation, the tenses. "Your story is important! People need to hear what you have to say, and if you don't communicate it clearly, they may not get what you're telling them."

I suppose I should have been listening to those words, too. And I think I know why I sometimes feel like sounding the retreat, curling into a little ball and refusing to come out and play: the epidemic disinterest in others that I encounter more and more as I get older. People love to talk about themselves, but often show an abysmal lack of interest in anyone else. Strike up a conversation with someone seated next to you on the plane, or at a meeting, and nine times out of ten, you will hear more than you really expected, followed by awkward silence. People have forgotten how to keep a conversation going, they've lost the empathy or common courtesy to end their own answer with a question: "What about you? What brings you all the way to..."

I'll close with the antithesis to that type of self-absorbed Memememememe. I don't remember who sat down first, whether I sat down by Tom at the mayor's breakfast, or I sat down by him. We exchanged pleasantries. That I was intrigued by him was a no-brainer: he'd sailed to Florida from Michigan and rode around town on a bicycle, despite being at an age when most folks might be saving up stories about their latest ailments and appointments to share over dinner. What was not to like?

What caught my attention was that he seemed to be genuinely interested in me.

Tom Lee (and the Sock Monkey)
with grandson Adam
Before his return to Michigan, Tom treated my grandson and I and his friend to a tour of his boat and a boatyard, answered questions, brought flowers to a show I was in - in short, he became an instant, lasting friend because he is one of those people who never loses sight of the fact that his own story is worth sharing, and who simultaneously communicates that my story is worth hearing  as well (or yours, or whomever's he is around).

That's a gift, and it's one that more of us should work on cultivating. Myself, included.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2013