Shared Narratives

Friday was one of the most special days so far this year for me.  It came at a busy time of year.  I leave for Haiti again in less than a week.  The weekend after I return from Haiti, I’m attending the Families in Global Transition conference in DC and covering it in a journalistic capacity.  The Wednesday after the conference is a print deadline at work, and not long after is our next trip to Haiti.

And right before all of this came Friday.  On Friday, the director of the study abroad program visited the United States and gave the convocation message at my alma mater.  The college also planned to hold a reception in the evening for him.  I hadn’t seen him since June 2011 when we left Italy, but for nearly all 23 of us who were in the program that semester, his vision for the program shaped who we are today.  So much so that several of my classmates booked flights to come in specifically for his stateside visit.

Friday morning I had forgotten about the talk he was scheduled to give at convocation.  Sitting in Starbucks with my computer, I popped onto Facebook for a quick work break and saw the Global Education Office of my school posting a reminder.  I looked at the clock: 10 AM.  If I drove fast, I could still make it to the talk.  It took about a half second for me to decide to do it–one of the blessings of choosing my own hours and working remotely.

In the 30 minute talk that he gave, I was reminded of all of the things that had shaped that semester and have continued to shape my life–from the importance of traveling abroad to the significance of community to the privilege of listening to and valuing other people’s lives.  It was amazing to see how much a semester could continue to shape my entire worldview after graduating from college.

I couldn’t physically write fast enough to capture every word that came out of his mouth (and I was admittedly partially distracted by the vibrant images of frescoes and Francis of Assisi on the screen behind him), but the phrase that continually returned to me was a “shared narrative.”  The entire community that we constructed in Italy during that semester abroad was a shared narrative.  Each of our 23 lives made it up–the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny.  We made a semester that was bigger than us.  But even more shocking was how we were part of a shared narrative beyond our semester.  The Italy program continued to exist even after we left, and has continued to build relationships with the town that houses it in a way that we never could have imagined during the spring we were there in 2011.  We were part of a shared narrative that expanded beyond time and space.  And that’s pretty cool.

Today I had the opportunity to Skype with the three other writers that will be attending the Families in Global Transition conference in March.  I’ve never met them.  I’ve never met any of the people who will be attending the conference.  But we will all be or have been expats in some capacity or another.  As I listened to Jo Parfitt, the publisher coaching us, speaking about the conference and her vision for the conference, I was humbled to discover that I had unknowingly become a part of another shared narrative.  This conference gives a voice to expats in a way that very few other occasions can.  The number of researchers there and people who will benefit from this conference connects the global community in a way that expands beyond a single acquaintance.  By writing about this conference, I get to give a voice to this narrative.  I don’t own the narrative–but I get to be part of it and give words to it for other people to read.  That’s pretty cool too.

So wherever you are, don’t be afraid to be part of a shared narrative.  It might not be the narrative you want, or expected.  But  you’re part of it.  Remember that you don’t own the narrative.  You get to help construct it, but you don’t own it.  Let it be greater than you.

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