Used to, you’d barter brass buttons for corn or some other foodstuff. It’s what you did when the drought was on and money was tight. You’d meet in the corner of Painter’s Field and make the exchange. Perhaps you’d stay long enough to swap stories, too. Maybe about how Annie’s last batch of canned beans went sour, or how Edna got the Holy Ghost at church last week, or how Johnny had to put his last good mule down. I imagine it as an old-timey thing to do in the South.
These days, few people care much about brass buttons and even fewer store corn for the drought. Now, we employ skills and use paychecks to shop at the Mega-Mart. We avoid eye contact and story swapping. After all, Hollywood has convinced us that their stories are better.
Hollywood is wrong.
Recently, I attempted a bit of a story swapping experiment. I sent a message to my blog subscribers. I postulated, “stories beget stories,” and asked that we do some bartering around the field fence post. It started something like this:
It’s been one hundred and eighty degrees here lately. Interstate 540 is littered with the remains of shredded rubber, hot pavement and friction compromising too many a tire wall. It’s a Goodyear graveyard out there. Yesterday, I laid a right rear tire to rest. It was a good right rear tire. I suspect its pressure was a bit low and the heat of the pavement split it wide open. In the words of Amber (who sure can turn a phrase), “all the cans of fix-a-flat in all the Wal-Marts in America wouldn’ta stopped that.” It was a brutal endeavor, changing into a spare tire in the midst of a nuclear summer. By the time I was finished, I’d lost a gallon of sweat and every bit of my patience. It was an exercise in the fruits of the Spirit, no doubt.
I half expected responses regarding the manner in which to best change a tire quickly, or “didn’t you know that low tire pressure and hot pavement don’t mix,” or “you should always carry water when you’re traveling, you know.” But instead, the replies were more like silent “mm-hmms,” followed by corresponding snippets of life. Stories begat stories, and their progeny was as follows:
My bride and I recently decided to walk the San Antonio Riverwalk after attending the Seventh Annual Texas Expo Tattoo Convention. The Riverwalk is great. Mediocre restaurants and overpriced gift shops line a canal with two feet of sidewalk between business and water. It’s glorious. Wish you were here.
This particular night is Saturday Night on the Riverwalk. Neon mini-skirts and Ed Hardy shirts as far as the eye can see. Very classy. I’m looking for some Aquaphor skin ointment and a stiff drink. My wife’s hankering for ice cream. … Then suddenly I’m being embraced by a grown man I’ve never seen before. He has both arms around my neck, his hand stroking the back of my head, and he’s telling me that he loves me. I immediately shove one arm between our chests and the other free hand to my wallet. His friends are pulling him off of me, but this guy really loves me. … I smell whiskey, steak sauce, and menthols. (God, I hate menthols). And he says, “I love you, man, and I love your beard!” To which I respond, “I’m so glad!” (I’m still holding my wallet.)
… I’ve been a bit depressed lately, and the random worship does wonders for my self-esteem.
From birth until 5, we lived at 1810 Russell Street, and Juanita lived next door. Everyday when my mom went off to work at the pre-flooded Opryland Hotel, she would sit outside on her porch, squatting on both legs near to the old wooden deck, and hold me in her arms. My mom always wondered why she’d choose to be outside in the heat of the Nashville summer with a cranky baby so close to her chest. We’ve also often marveled at the strength of those legs. Haunches of steel, they must have been. … As I fight the summer itch, I think of Juanita – and I hope for the peace and one-mindness to squat near the ground with what’s precious to me by my heart, and just let the rest sweat away.
The lactation consultant tells my friend that sometimes babies want the breast so badly that they can’t even see it right in front of them because of their distress and it’s her job to calm, soothe and coax them to the point where they can receive what they need and want.
… As I listened to her story, I distinctly remembered the exact same experience happening to me while trying to work out the breastfeeding kinks with all three of our boys and I still remember the words I spoke to soothe, “It’s okay… I have what you need… Shh… It’s okay . . . I have what you need . . . ”
What happened to me when I lost my daughter last year was (among other things) that my sense of self was completely broken open. My soul met God for the first time, even after having been raised in church. My soul is now a baby learning to walk…with all the fussiness and impatience and wanting to rush things that a baby has when they want so badly to just be running already.
So this journey here today is all a part of that, or a result of that. It’s beautiful and exhausting and also a bit lonely.
There was joy in the bartering that day. I think we all left that email chain thinking that we had shared something special, thinking that somehow the word of our testimonies had done some collective good. Somehow, in shared story, we found a vent for sweltering heat.
I’m afraid that our society has lost that sense of sharing somewhere. I am afraid that we’ve lost the knowing of interconnectedness.
So, my challenge here today is simple. Share a brief bit of your story in the comments. Stories beget stories. It’s cathartic. I promise.