There are stories — fictional and otherwise — of people staging their deaths, so they can attend their own funerals. I had a sense of that experience this summer, without the subterfuge, when I went on book tour with The Same Moon.
Standing in the back room at Zandbroz Variety in my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, I watched people from nearly every part of my life drift in and take their seats. By the time I started speaking, the room was packed — standing room only. Of the 60 or so people there, I knew all but maybe five of them. And more showed up at other tour stops.
These were people I grew up around, who I considered my aunts and uncles; family friends I babysat for and picnicked with; former colleagues; classmates (and some of their parents) from all stages of my schooling; teachers — including one of my preschool teachers; friends from church; a friend from the program that took me to Japan; and, of course, my husband, son and parents.
Unlike a funeral, though, this congregation listened to me share my belief that listening to one another’s stories — no matter where we sit on the political, cultural, socioeconomic or any other spectrum — is the only way to make forward progress as a society in this challenging time. We don’t have to agree, but at least we can start by trying to understand. (I could have taken it yet another step further, adding the Rev. Maclean’s thought from A River Runs Through It: “We can love completely, even without complete understanding.”)
When I finished, my people settled in to ask me question after thoughtful, generous question, encouraging me to share even more bits about my personal story and the Japanese culture that’s been part of my life for decades now. In fact, so many of them stayed to buy books to have signed, and to say hello, that the store ran out of books (luckily, I had some in the car), and we stayed on long after the doors were supposed to close.
One of my favorite moments of the evening came as I visited with my preschool teacher, Mrs. Fagerstrom. She looked at me and said, “You really haven’t changed that much since preschool.”
I laughed and knelt down on the floor, gazing up at her from what I imagined would have been my preschool height. “From here,” I told her, “neither have you.”
Reflecting on her comment later, I hope what she meant was that I’ve retained the curiosity and sense of wonder that are gifts of childhood, ones that were nurtured in me by my family and by so many of those who gathered that summer evening in a story-filled room. As my hair grays and those laugh (and consternation) lines deepen, they are qualities I will continue to carry with me, wherever the conversation leads.