For the Storyholders


megan gahan -for the storyholders-2

I sit across from a woman I have just met. Several of us have gathered in a coffee shop on the other side of the country, all attendees of a large writing conference. A few have known each other for years. But others are connecting for the first time. It’s a little odd meeting people you only recognize from author photos. There’s a warm familiarity, but it’s not quite comfortable yet. We order hot drinks and settle into squishy couches and plush armchairs. We are exhausted and jet-lagged, but also expectant for what’s to come.

We show up early, before the conference begins. It feels right to start the weekend this way. Women gathering, hearts soft, hands open. One by one, we are each called upon to share. We are timid at first. Somewhat anxious. We don’t know where to begin, how to sum up life and work and calling into something succinct and easy. In all fairness, it’s impossible to do. We abandon succinctness in favour of truth early on.

As we go round the circle, I listen quietly. I hear stories about loss, birth and rediscovering roots. I forget about my tea as a woman shares how the last few years have been marked by horrifying heartbreak coupled with God-breathed redemption. I am so humbled to be entrusted with these stories—stories that have yet to be put to page or screen. Thirty minutes ago, I was just a name on the other side of an email address to some of them. And yet, these women still choose vulnerability over pat answers tied up with tidy bows.

We bear witness to each others’ stories in those precious hours. We honour them and we see them. But, more importantly, we see each other. In an empty coffee shop on a regular Thursday morning, we hold space. It is holy. And it is human. What a gift to be invited to come alongside each other, to share the load, if only for a morning.

In that serendipitous gathering, we become each others’ storyholders. And I adore being a storyholder.

You see, storyholders are essential to storytellers. Some tell stories with words. Others with art or music or dance. I would argue that we are all storytellers in some capacity. And often, we only muster the courage to write or speak or paint or perform after we have entrusted our stories to another soul. Storyholders are the ones who carry all the words we haven’t written. They know the experiences we can’t bring ourselves to type or speak louder than a whisper. They hear the ones that feel too close, too painful or too darn ordinary to dig into. They hold our stories with us and, sometimes, for us. They may sit in our living room or on the other side of the world. They cry and give us time and space to process.

The most invaluable trait of a good storyholder is this: they remind us—over and over—that we have stories worth telling.

Sometimes these stories remain dormant for months or years. But inevitably, the day comes when we are ready. We put trembling fingers to keyboard, shaking voice to microphone, trepidatious brush to canvas and we tell our story. But we are only ready because of our storyholders, the ones who cradled our fragile histories until the time came for them to be birthed. We release our stories because of those who patiently shouldered secrets whispered in the night or over the phone or across the uneven table at Starbucks. Who stood in the gap until the time was right.

Being a storyholder is hard, quiet work. It often goes completely unnoticed. But without the steadiness and encouragement of storyholders, there would be no storytellers.

So, to my own wise and patient storyholders: thank you dear friends. Not one sentence would have seen the light of day without you. I pray I steward your stories as beautifully as you do mine. And to those standing in the gap, gently prodding a friend who you know has something true and necessary to offer this world, thank you as well. I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side of your faithfulness.

Let us never forget the holy, brutiful work of truly seeing each other.
Of choosing vulnerability over tidy bows.
Of carrying each others’ stories.