Last night I was listening to some Death Cab while cracking open my new book “Stranger Than Fiction” by Chuck Palahniuk. The mixture of absurdity and beauty sent a shockwave through my mind, and inspired me to write an edgier, more taboo column than the usual:
Everybody has a story, but nobody ever asks to hear it. If a random stranger were to approach you while you’re sitting having coffee, and asked you “So what’s your story?” Would you be able to answer? Would you be able to tell them the about the people and the events, the highest peaks and the lowest depths, that have made you the person they stand before at that moment? Or would you crumble and tell them to go away, realizing that you really have no clue how to answer such a question, or that it doesn’t matter how you got here, all that matters is that you are here.
Everyone has a story. Every person you walk by every single day. There could be hundreds of people that walk but inches from you, nearly knocking the iPod from your hand. Whether you are in Time Square, or on a farm in rural Iowa your going to run into people, your going to pass by folks who may have the most extraordinary stories, and you never even thought to ask. But I bet they would be happy to tell it.
Going back to the old cliche’ “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” it’s remarkable how true this is. Would you believe that the 30 year-old businessman who just passed by, Blackberry at the ready, briefcase glued to his right hand, suit and tie with a sharp black petticoat– is a habitual cocaine user that spends every Monday and Wednesday evening at Sex-Addict classes? No, he’s more of the big house, nice car, wife and kids guy right? Wrong.
What about the homeless lady down by the subway? She’s there day and night, happy as can be, singing her favorite 70’s classic’s, dressed in blackened, tattered jeans and a faded red sweater with half an arm cut off. Maybe she’s mentally ill, and she looks like she should be begging for help. Had you asked, you would have learned that she was once a college sociology professor who, after spending sabbatical in Africa, donated her wealth to a charity organization. All but $10,000 dollars locked away in a bank account remains, just in case. She quit her job, and although she’s homeless, and appears penniless, she’s happy.
So if someone were to ask how you came to be the person you are today, could you answer? Could you tell them, not blandly, but in enough detail that if they closed their eyes, they could watch your biography unravel in their imagination? You should, because going from “the fat kid,” to winning your first Olympic distance triathlon is as much a part of who you are, as finishing your graduation project… the night before its due… which eventually lead to finally graduating and heading to college.
Nobody sees the world from the same angle; we all have our own view of our surroundings, which may look completely different through the eyes of the person standing next to you. That’s what makes it worth asking. Sometimes the best stories come from the most unlikely of people.