Last weekend I went to East Tennessee. The National Storytelling Festival is the first weekend of October each year. I went to spend time with good friends, to absorb stories, and to go home. (I’m going to concentrate on the importance of story, not on the politics of story. I am very familiar with the issues, but that was not what the trip was about for me.)
It may sound odd to say I was going home but Jonesborough feels that way to me. I always say it is the place where I feel like I can breathe. It’s where I can rest in story, relax, and be away for the stress that surrounds me in my daily life. I had not been to Festival since 2009. I have been to Jonesborough since then and have seen friends in other places. I was only able to go for part of the Festival – Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon – but it was enough.
There were several moments that I will cherish and remember. Sitting in the dark of the back yard of the bed and breakfast where we stayed, my friend Brenda shared incredibly moving stories. As she states, “you can be bitter or you can better” and we should choose being better. Margaret, Brenda and I spent most of the time together, going where ever one of us wanted to go listen most of the time.
On Saturday morning I went for a run. I wound my way up hills and through the back streets of this little town. As I was running back up Main Street I suddenly heard a glorious sound – it was Jay O’Callahan warming up his voice in the Kennedy’s back yard. Of course I stopped to say hello. What a delightful way to begin the day!
There were stories I had heard and knew well and others that were new. I heard tellers who I had never heard before. Kim and Reggie Harris sang and told stories about civil rights. They were wondeful and I will look for them again. Hannah Harvey moved us with stories about the coal miners who “did it for us” when they went into the mines, risking their lives and often sacrificing life. Laura Simms reminded us to Rejoice. Regardless through her moving stories about her work with victims of war. Tributes to Brother Blue, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Jackie Torrence reminded me of times spent with each of them. Humor was, of course, part of the weekend as well. Kevin Kling, Barbara McBride Smith, and Bil Lepp all made me laugh.
Stories bring us together. All of us have stories to tell and share. It is not about a stage in East Tennessee. It’s about sharing your heart with others, laughing, crying, and being moved.It is a way to express passion and to make a difference. That is what I think about when I think about story. It was a marvelous weekend.