Went to an insightful and resonant storytelling conference this past week in New York City. Lots to digest and mull. One of the significant factors was not just applying it to filmmaking, writing, or corporate branding, but to our own life as well.
The elements of a great story, that is, one that is transformational (for the characters and the audience) parallels the elements and events of our own lives.
I think that’s why I’ve always been drawn, pulled, and just this side of obsessed with writing. It is the act of figuring out your own life. And more often than not it is the painful times of life, when confusion, fear or deep hurt reign that I most find solace in the words that pour forth.
Now there are lots of blogs and webpages on making your life a better story, embracing pain as gift and other things that have universal truths. But I want to focus on one moment during the days of the conference that stands out to me.
Part of our study of transformational moments in story was to experience one. As part of that, we were given the tremendous privilege of visiting the 9/11 memorial. Many of us had not been to ground zero since before the attacks. I was actually a little trepiditious, not knowing how I’d feel. As we approached and wound our way through the narrow guarded walkway with security every few feet, I started to feel overwhelmed….with reverence. I was coming onto holy ground.
As we entered the park-like setting, it was almost generic in appearance. The large tower under construction (said to be the tallest building in North America upon completion) dominated one side but the planted trees and clean walkways that made up the majority of the grounds were plaintive, almost sedate.
Standing in the exact spots where the two towers were housed, were two mammoth, granite square, cascading waterfalls. The water rolled off from each of the four sides into a center pool and then disappeared down another seemingly bottomless hole that no doubt recycled the water.
Surrounding each waterfall were plaques with the names of all the victims from the two towers, surrounding buildings, the pentagon, Flight 77, Flight 93 and rescue workers who died that day.
It was eerie to look at the names as well as watching the perpetual falling of the water; gentle yet insistent.
More than once emotion rose in my throat. I could not help but feel both projected fear and immense empathy as I stood where many took their last breath on this earth. I bowed my head several times, talking to God in words I don’t even remember.
As I looked out again across the memorial, I gave thanks. For so long (and it will continue to be so) harsh, jagged images of the destruction of that day have filled our mind’s eye. But here, at the epicenter of evil and pain, were the raw materials for redemption. The story is still being told. The memorial is an additional chapter that doesn’t run away from the darkness of that day, but rather, moves through it, bringing light to usher the shadows away.
I was indeed transformed that day. A witness to an ongoing story. A story that does what all great stories do: make us run after hope and strive to be better than we are.