Sharing stories, sharing life: A personal essay

People sharing stories around a campfire
Beverly Pan/Staff

It was a familiar sight in my life: the entire family gathered around the table for dinner time as part of our daily routine. Much of the significance of these events came after the meal was done, but before we’d split off into our nightly activities. In the midst of the lull, as plates were being finished and drinks were being had, we began to tell some of the best stories. These conversations would become some of the most treasured moments for my family, with countless hours invested in telling stories.

After years of continuous storytelling, my siblings and I all became well-versed in the family tales. We could start from a seemingly unrelated point of conversation and connect it to a story we’d known since we were kids. When we told the story, it would have laughter and layers of inside jokes intertwined in the actual narrative. To many, the premise of these stories could sound absurd. What does a singing English outlaw have to do with skinny-fitting clothing? What do a protective mama pig and a treacherous knife fight have in common? What name is too close to Mom on our home phone? The cacophony was often confusing to guests, but between us, we understood exactly what was happening. It was less of a secret language and more of a shared history of familiar stories exchanged over family dinners.  

The love of storytelling came from our dad, someone who lived a life rich with exciting and memorable events that simply had to be told. For as long as any of my siblings can remember, he was there to tell us about his childhood or his travels, memories that became rooted in our own identities as much as his own. Even during the most insignificant of meals, there would be time for a story, and we would all love to listen.

The stories my dad would tell me have become so intertwined in my memories that my own story would not be complete without them. Even though few of my dad’s stories actually included me, I felt as much a part of them as I did in the ones I was involved in. They brought me closer to my family in a way I could not be more grateful for. During a period of time where I had to live away from most of my family members, sharing tales with my dad about my siblings helped me keep their memories vibrant in my life. He showed us the value of quality time and of family, instilling powerful messages that never fail to resonate with us.

Through it all, my dad instilled a love of storytelling in all of his children, and as we started telling our own stories, we each developed our own style of narration. Each story, no matter how often it was retold, would be given a breath of vitality with varying degrees of slapstick and acting. We’d tell them in our own special way, but could bounce off of each other’s segments as if we were performing in a well-rehearsed play.

Telling stories has always been an irreplaceable part of my life, becoming integral to how I approach every day. When confronted with a risk, nervous about potential failure, I just remember that even a moment of embarrassment can transform into an entertaining story. When talking to a friend, I spin my day into a fascinating adventure — I realized that each moment in life, however seemingly mundane, can be a story worth telling, because sharing stories isn’t just about relaying information. It’s about sharing life with others — memories, cultures, experiences — even with those who come from drastically different backgrounds. The continuous telling and retelling of stories keeps bonds strong and memories alive in ways that even photographs or records can’t, because when we tell them, they grow with us.

Fortunately for everyone, the best stories never stop being told. As years pass, we’ll regale our families’ greatest hits, sharing them with those we care about. Our collection will inevitably grow as we live out more experiences worth sharing. And no matter how many times they’ve been told, these stories are always worth telling again.

Contact Emmanuel Ronquillo at [email protected]

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