I said goodbye to my dear friend, mentor, and surrogate grandmother, Gladyce, just before Thanksgiving. At 99+ years, she had lived a long life and was ready to leave us. I sat down with her for a brief visit while she lay in her hospice bed, resting, listening, and responding with nods of her head, or a curl of a smile, or a wink of her clouded eyes. I found myself telling the stories that she had shared with me and our friend Marie during their lunchtime visits to my café these past few years. I shared the stories of my time with her, the connections that had formed between us. It seems I was the last one to share stories with her, as she drifted off into a sleep that evening that turned unresponsive the next day. I trust that my stories secured her to a peaceful passage guided by love.
The bigger story behind this event is that telling our story is fundamental to our ability to be in a human community. Stories create our sense of place and time, develop our patterns for living together, and push us to redraw our boundaries as we connect with experiences that are different from our own.
When interns from Nicollet Square begin their position with us at the café, they join me to hear the story of Butter. I share my journey – from first jobs as a custodian and cook in high school to my years as a teacher and my move to business owner. I share the stories of my parents, their role in my life and the impact of their deaths. I share the stories of how the café formed and grew, developed a community, and became connected to the mission of Nicollet Square. I share the story of my connections to nature, to my children and siblings, to my church and faith community and how they’ve all taken shape in what the café has become. My story is the beginning a relationship with these young adults. I make this offer with hopes that our connections will grow. Sometimes I get to hear their story, to find common ground, and in the process to grow with them.
I can’t run my shop without stories. Where we are able, we tell the stories of our farm connections, our artists and producers, our food and beverages. We tell our own stories and what has brought us here to serve our neighbors. We listen to the stories shared with us and around us. We create stories to help us understand the people we come into contact with. Gladyce, always had a story for us. The story began at the counter as she worked out her lunch order (mostly oblivious to the line that would form behind her, of course) and would continue for those who would sit down with her, and would find a way back to those at the counter as she got ready to leave the shop.
Gladyce had a way of telling stories that made you feel that there was a point to be made. Sometimes at the end of the story, Gladyce would look up at me quizzically and ask, “Now, why I did I tell you that story?” And while I would ponder that thought, she’d either remember or just chuckle and claim that it probably didn’t matter and start another story. Most of the time her stories were just to help us smile – supporting her favorite little bible verse – A merry heart doth provide the best medicine. Her stories were indeed a reason for her longevity, since she was well medicated with laughter, smiles, and love - which took her through the tough times of getting old.
As a shop owner, I am keeper of many neighborhood stories: birth, death, illness and healing, new jobs and homes, new loves and lost loves, accomplishments and frustrations. I weave them together into a fabric of our community, which then becomes a picture of what this café feels like to those who walk in for the first time. Some customers are quick to share stories, for others it may take years before a few details slip out. But throughout, I can sense that longing to have our story told, to be listened to, to be remembered, and to be one of the threads within the fabric.
I’ve recently been part of a small group of people practicing this art of storytelling. We are building a community that allows the new people among us to feel comfortable with those who have been part of the community for many years. We share our stories to build connections and to offer those who have not been able to tell their stories – silenced by rejection, fear and shame – a place to be accepted. We know that by listening and offering love people come alive - for it is the stories within us that fuel our life. Gladyce knew that too. She gave away her stories as a part of letting go of her long life and to enrich our lives.
Share your story as you walk this green path. Be a part of the bigger story - connect with the places that know your story and are able to tell their own!