I’m a child of the 80s. Two of my favorite movies as a kid were Labyrinth (1986) starring Jennifer Connelly and The Never Ending Story (1984) starring no one famous that I know of. Both films are about kids struggling to fit in with their families amidst transition (death of a parent in one, the birth of a new child, and remarriage in another) and escape through books to cope, to find acceptance, to discover strength, and to be reminded they aren’t alone. In fact, they are loved.
I saw myself in these kids. Feeling like the black sheep a lot of the time as a middle child, very different from my siblings in personality. Feeling like the book-nerdy kid at school up until middle school, preferring books, writing, and imaginative play with my favorite doll and inside the trees in my backyard over sports, or dance, or 4H or whatever it was that most elementary-aged kids in my town were doing.
I saw myself in these characters because of their love for reading, their quest for adventure, and for belonging. I was filled with powerful hope watching them become the heroes of their own stories and the actual ones they were trapped in. (Sarah in the Labyrinth enters the very book she loves and Sebastian in the Never Ending Story helps the protagonist alter the events of the book he reads until he eventually finds his way into it at the end and saves the land.)
Whether fiction or nonfiction, inside books or inside movies, I have always found such beautiful gifts and such intense power in stories. I have found such pride when people have said to me, “You’re such a wonderful storyteller.” For they don’t ever mean I’m telling tall tales or spinning up lies. They are commending my ability to capture their attention, to move them, to entertain them, to inspire them, to make them think.
Because stories can do all of these, sometimes at the same time. And I believe our personal stories, our real stories, our truths, have as much to offer, if not more, as those fictional ones we love and adore. I believe there is a reason that while I was attracted to fiction and fantasy as a little girl, that I moved toward nonfiction as I grew up and life happened. Not because I stopped loving the adventure of mystical places and mythical creatures and characters, but because I could recognize the adventure, the journey, and the power in real life and in real people. And because I realized that even the best fiction and fantasy springs from some element of truth.
Do not doubt the power of your personal story. Do not think for a second that because your story is based on you or your life or your circumstances that it is somehow not worth telling, or doesn’t matter, or doesn’t offer enough to someone who may read it. Remember the power that story can hold and that includes the one you have to share.
Stories can transport us away from the noise, or chaos, or challenge in our own lives and give us rest, respite, shelter, and pause. Stories can test us, challenge us, inform us, educate us so that we may learn, grow, and discover things that make us and our lives better. They can offer hope, inspiration, light which can pull us from the darkness, the depths, the heaviness of the worst parts of the world, or the hardest parts of our earthly journey. And they can give us connection, belonging, safety, and healing by mirroring where we have been so that we may know we are not alone.
Someone somewhere will read your story and see themselves inside it. As a result, whomever they are will feel less alone, less out of place, and more seen, more accepted, more loved, and more hopeful. Your story may have the power to impact one person. If we each could just impact one person, collectively we would change the world. Believe in the power of your story.
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