This reminded me of the Hawaiian concept of talking story -- which can mean telling the stories of oral history or one's life or simply one's day to a group or even to just one other friend -- and the therapeutic value of sharing with each other.
My friend Kim and I have started a tradition of talking story every now and then at our local McDonald's where we sip iced tea for hours -- always in the lull between lunch and dinner -- and catch up -- with fun and touching stories from our past and our present. We cover a lot of territory. Kim even brought a hastily scrawled agenda on a post-it note so she wouldn't forget what she most wanted to tell me at our "talk story" session last week. We laughed a lot. And we both headed home -- three hours later -- feeling somehow lighter and more cheerful and hopeful.
Whether we "talk story" with friends or family or even with relative strangers, it feels good to share a bit of ourselves, to be known and accepted by another. Agreement isn't a given nor is similarity of life stories. Often another point of view, another life path taken only enriches the exchange.
Kim and I are different in many ways. She's from New England and spent most of her adult life in Minnesota and the Dakotas. She married her college sweetheart and, due to the demands and frequent moves his corporate career required, she never had a sustained career outside the home, though she has enjoyed stints of writing for a newspaper and teaching aerobics and fitness classes, the latter something she still does here. She has two adult daughters and four grandchildren she adores.
I'm from Los Angeles, childless and worked outside the home for 42 years at several different careers -- as a writer, psychotherapist, college admissions representative and actress -- and didn't meet and marry Bob until I was in my thirties.
But yet, there are similarities that bring us together. We have both vowed to eschew panty hose and dressing up for the rest of our lives. We rarely wear makeup and enjoy the freedom to look our ages and to be ourselves. We hate shopping and both of us order our clothing online, strongly favoring Lands End. We were both religious early in life, tend toward agnosticism now with a pull toward spirituality and wanting to do good things for others. So we talk and dish and laugh. And it feels wonderful.
Talking story can be an important, bonding element of friendship. Talking story can turn strangers into friends....and friends into family.
My husband Bob and neighbor Wally enjoy getting together and talking most Wednesdays. (Wednesday with Wally does have a ring to it!). I walked in toward the end of their four hour talkfest the other day just as Wally was describing a wonderful Latino man about his age whom he has befriended in the waiting area of the local kidney dialysis center where both their wives are being treated three times a week. Wally was marveling at this man's amazing life story -- how he built a successful business and thriving ranch, starting with little except others' belief in him and their emotional support and adding a large measure of his own hard work and motivation to succeed. Wally talked about the joy of getting to know -- and learn some life lessons from -- someone he might otherwise never have met.
When I left them, Bob and Wally were reminiscing about their carefree, often unsupervised boyhoods -- Bob in L.A., Wally in Detroit -- and how much fun it was to dig holes, build forts and explore with their childhood friends -- and how different these long-ago days were from those of today's over-scheduled, helicopter-parent supervised youth. And as those two older men sat talking story, I caught a brief glimpse of the boys they once were.
By listening to others' stories, we can begin to understand who they are and why they make the choices they do.
By listening to others' stories, we find sadness to share, experiences in common, humor in life's ups and downs, reassurance that we're not alone in our struggles and triumphs and challenges.
By sharing with others, we take the risk of being known -- and of being close.
A co-worker once told me that she was a very private person -- to the extent of not letting those she worked with know whether she was married or not -- because she didn't want to be known too well. I joked with her that we were cut from the same cloth -- her with her jealously guarded privacy and me with my ongoing office tales of life as I saw it and adventures with my cats. "We're both dealing with the same delusion," I told her. "We're both assuming that anyone around here gives a damn about your private life or my cats."
Unlike my very private co-worker, I was always willing to take the risk of being known as a crazy cat lady or worse just to share who I was -- and discover, with greater depth, the characters, life challenges and dreams of some of my co-workers.
However, thanks to this private and cautious co-worker, I learned to be more selective about talking story and more respectful of those who chose to share little if any of their private lives away from work. But sharing stories with co-workers or friends, those whose life stories were similar as well as those who come from other countries, other cultures, other points of view often has been rewarding in so many ways.
The secret, of course, is balance: knowing what to share and what not to share and with whom; listening as well as talking, and talking as well as listening as you experience the joy of knowing another and being known with mutual acceptance and appreciation.
It doesn't get much better than that.