Sometimes we get lucky......
This is my young friend Sam, working at a service project in Freiburg Germany as part of a People to People delegation two years ago. Though I'm not traveling this year, the previous four summers I spent three weeks as a teacher-leader for such delegations, visiting different corners of the world, with 30-40 high school aged students in tow. The year Sam traveled with me, we were part of a program titled "Cultures of Europe." Sam actually did a wonderful job documenting her experiences in a website she created. At the time of the trip, Sam had just finished her freshman year of high school. On every one of these trips, there are a variety of "types" of kids who travel. It's one of the true wonders of the program, in my opinion, that freed from their jock/geek/valley girl roles, these kids cross those boundaries and make true friends that last beyond the three weeks of the trip. If I were to put Sam in one of those "groups," she'd probably be "alternative." I like those kids, they have interesting insights into the world and life that many kids don't, so I enjoyed those times when Sam and I would find ourselves next to each other on the bus, the dinner table or the cruise ship down the Seine. She knew what she liked and didn't try to be something different.
Sam has kept contact with me to varying degrees since returning from the trip. She sought my name as a reference for a job hunt. "My parents say it's about time I pay for some things!" She asked if I could recommend her for another travel experience to Russia, one she completed last summer. I hadn't heard from Sam until right before she left for that trip, although one of her friends traveled with me last summer and filled me in.
Imagine my surprise, when I arrived at the Childrens Tent at Riverfest, to see Sam sitting there with a couple of friends. The friends were from Russia, keeping up the exchange tradition, and she said she "thought maybe I'd be there." They stayed for the entire set and we visited for awhile afterward, talking about her plans following high school and other things. It was good to reconnect for a few moments.
Fast forward in time to this past Saturday evening. I was one of the tellers at our annual event, "Tales in the Tent," a fundraiser for the LaCrosse Storytelling Festival. As one of the other members of the Talespinners and I stood around scarfing up the remains of the food, she asked me if my young friend found me at Riverfest. Seems that Sam had seen "Bluff Country Talespinners" on the schedule, knew I was part of that, and came to listen. She caught Teri's set, then approached her afterwards to find out if I'd be telling anytime during the festival. Teri got her number, got the info, and let her know I'd be there the next day.
Any of us who work with people, especially young ones, often wonder whether we've made a difference to them. One of my signature stories shares an experience I had when I realized that I did. It would seem that Sam has given me the bones for another such story. All too often, we go to our graves wondering if we reached anyone. I am happy to know that at least twice, I have. In both cases, storytelling was the connecting link. I can't help but think the power of story shined through the normal chaos of life to help make those differences happen.