“If you walk into Montpelier’s public library these days, you might notice some new books on the shelves.”
So the story began. The storyteller was seated beside me in the faux-living-room set of a local television studio as he smiled at a camera and told the story to an imagined but soon-to-be-real audience scattered about Vermont.
He told them about a writer who got fed up with waiting for her dream to come true and decided to publish her books herself. For him, this was a tale of someone taking control of her own destiny. He was also interested in the pivotal moments when the writer lived in Russia and left journalism to write novels.
Last Sunday morning, in the studio of Vermont’s WCAX, Channel 3 (CBS), I was the story - for about three minutes. The friendly anchor of the morning show wrote the lines that introduced me and a very condensed version of my writing life. He asked me a bunch of questions about the parts that he found most compelling, and I answered them. We had a nice conversation, and then my story was over, and he moved on to the next one.
As it turned out, though, my little TV spot did not air live as planned.
“Two of the Thai soccer players were just rescued,” a producer in a headset came to tell me just minutes after I had arrived that morning. CBS kept interrupting the WCAX team’s script with breaking news. They might not be able to fit in my interview. They may need to record it later and air it next weekend. He apologized.
I nodded and assured him that I understood. My books could wait. On the other side of the world, a much bigger story was unfolding. A dozen teenage boys and their soccer coach were trapped inside a cave. They had survived there for more than two weeks. At last, some were being rescued. The world was watching and waiting. The people of Thailand had all their hope pinned on those boys. I, too, was hoping with all my might for every last one of them to get out of that darn cave and into their families' arms.
And so, in an unexpected plot twist, my personal story and a global rescue story overlapped. The story of the trapped Thai soccer team made a wave whose ripples washed ashore in Vermont. We are all connected. Our stories bump into one another. The tales of our lives overlap and intertwine, and we find again and again that we are more alike than different, more connected than alone, more universal than individual.
I don’t watch television. We don’t own one. Yet, I have a new appreciation for the stories that the TV reporters and anchors across our country tell about the people in their communities in order to entertain, inform, and connect (“Only connect.” - E.M. Forster) with their audience. After all, a television audience is a group of individual human beings like you and me who probably just want to enjoy their coffee and a good story on a Sunday morning while keeping up with what’s happening in the world.
The anchor at WCAX spends his days telling super-short stories of real people’s lives. He gives his audience glimpses into the identities and adventures of their fellow Vermonters. Everyday, he finds new stories to tell. They may not get much time, depth, or detail, but the brevity of his stories is refreshing and effective nonetheless.
Stories are all around us. They are everywhere all the time. The news anchor and the songwriter tell a story in just three of four minutes. The poet tells a story with beautiful imagery and rhyme. The essayist tells a personal story with a universal meaning. We all tell our stories every day at the dinner table, in the offices at work, over the phone to an old friend, in posts on social media, in email to our relatives and childhood friends, in the line of the grocery store… everywhere, all the time.
Real or imagined, stories are how we explain ourselves and our world to one another. Can you believe that all twelve Thai boys and their coach made it out of those caves alive? What a story.
And as one of our greatest storytellers ever, Jane Austen, knew better than anyone: We all love a happy ending.
Now that the boys in Thailand are safe and recovering, please kindly consider tuning in to Vermont’s Channel 3 this Sunday morning (July 15) at 8:30 to hear a short story about yours truly.