I wear the same bracelet every day, but it’s anything but a fashion accessory.
After wearing it every day for almost seven years, my feelings about it have evolved. At first, the story was fresh. Most people in my day-to-day life had heard the news, were aware of the circumstances, and many even knew Tom. The bracelet was a silent reminder that as people started getting back to their lives, this was now forever a part of mine.
As years passed, things changed. Coworkers have transitioned, I’ve made new friends, and our social circles were influenced by the “raising a toddler” stage of life. Fewer and fewer people knew the story, and even fewer actually knew Tom. Sometimes someone would notice or compliment my bracelet and ask a few questions. I’d briefly give them the background, accept their condolences, and then endure an awkward moment in which neither of us really knew how to move forward. They’re thinking, “is it OK to change the subject now? Do I have to ask more questions?” I’m thinking, “did I say too much? Did I say enough? Did I just ruin this person’s day?”
A few times I’ve considered not wearing it anymore. After having sparked some incredibly awkward exchanges with perfect strangers I rationalized that all I was really doing was burdening these poor people with a depressing story from a total stranger. I was blindsiding them with the last thing they expected when they offered a harmless, “hey, I like your bracelet.”
But with very few exceptions, I put it back on every morning. I even have a sweatproof, funkproof version to wear when I’m running. When it comes down to it, I can’t seem to part with it. I’m learning to navigate those inevitable awkward moments with strangers and I’m learning how to tell the story in a way that (I hope) plants a seed of inspiration in them rather than a dark cloud.
Because it all boils down to telling the story. And here’s the embarrassingly obvious thing I’m learning: it doesn’t actually help if I only share Tom’s story with people who’ve already heard it.
It’s ridiculous to admit, and it has taken me almost seven years to realize that. I’ve written about Tom less and less here over the years when I found it harder and harder to find a fresh angle on the story when all I really needed were fresh ears to hear it. The story is the story, it doesn’t need my help. What it needs is a bracelet to break the ice and some bravery to get the words out.
This was the third year in a row our preacher asked me to share Tom’s story at church during Memorial Day weekend. Each of the last two years, we were either on the river or out of town. This year, we had plans to be there. But then Laura decided to come to town for an impromptu Sisters Weekend and I considered using that as my excuse. “Sorry, Chad. I can’t be there because I’ll have family in town.” It woulda worked, too.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to share the story. To fresh ears.
So I did it. I didn’t think I wanted to, but I did it. I got up in front of our church, and talked about Memorial Day and I talked about Tom. I talked about who he was as a brother, a man, and a soldier. Laura and Becky and Jeff were there, which helped, but it was harder than I expected. I’m usually the one who sits behind this keyboard with my storytelling. I get to write and rewrite these words as many times as I need to before I hit ‘publish’ and put them out there. But this was live and in person.
Most of the people in that room were hearing the story for the first time. And I was starting to get it.
I got an email a few months ago from Mutual of Omaha and their 2014 Aha Moment Tour. It piqued my interest and I agreed to participate — not fully convinced I even HAD an “aha moment” to share.
The airstream trailer made it to Fayetteville the first week of June, and I recognized this as my second opportunity in ten days. Same story, fresh ears.
The Aha Moment crew did a brilliant job of editing out most of my rambling and now I have a two-minute snapshot of what has been one of the most significant, influential “aha moments” of my life. And just like that, I was given a new way to share the story.
I haven’t fully figured it out. And I have work to do on my confidence. And it’s really, really hard. But, after almost seven years, I’m starting to understand what “telling Tom’s story” actually means.
Links to share: