When I was in grade school, I spent every spare moment reading. I would have a book in one hand while shoveling cheerios into my mouth with the other (sorry Mom). I’d stubbornly read in the car while fighting off motion sickness and push the limits of my bedtime by using a dim reading light that wouldn’t let the whole house know I was up. Stories became my refuge where I could do anything, be anyone, and let my imagination run wild.
Like a lot of people, my reading kick stopped when I got my first phone and entered high school. Late nights with my reading light morphed into Instagram scrolling sessions or falling asleep from the exhaustion of after school sports.
Last summer, when I felt overwhelmed and lost in the chaos of the pandemic, I decided for the first time in eight years to sit down, open a book, and read. From the nature imagery in “Where the Crawdads Sing” to revisiting my childhood in the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series, I started to feel more grounded. The addition of Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” album also carried me into the fall semester, with its lilting lyrical stories of a mystical world in the woods.
Good books and good songs have carried me through this pandemic, not for the element of escapism from reality but because they remind me of the power of a story. Stories pulled me through this painful year, and I think that stories and storytelling are the key for us to heal and move forward as we fight towards the end of this pandemic.
Storytelling as an experience is equal parts listening and creating. The storyteller has to listen with careful empathy to their subject and relay the story respectfully and creatively to the audience. In turn, the audience listens intently while processing and honoring the story.
As a photojournalist and book nerd, I’ve learned how authentic stories can transform communities. We seek comfort in characters that we identify with and draw inspiration from deeply human stories we see in the media. I’ve witnessed entire nations transfixed by words, like Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb.” When we listen and honor each others’ stories, we realize that we aren’t alone, and we fortify the connections we have with each other.
Every person is emerging from this past year with a story to tell, and I believe that in order to heal and move forward, we all need to listen. If we simply declare the pandemic over and bury the losses of the year in a dark corner, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Untold stories can warp into something more painful than the loss itself.
I’ve had the honor of visually telling the stories of the UP community for the past four years. I believe that the survival of this community and family of students depends on how we listen and tell our stories in the next year.
From lost friendships, mental health struggles, feelings of isolation, and other disappointments I believe it’s time to put it all out there. Sit down with your loved ones, your acquaintances, your close friends, and take the time to tell your story and listen to theirs. You may find that like a character in your favorite book, you have more in common than you think. That strength and solidarity won’t fix our losses, but it will allow us to heal and move forward together.
Molly Lowney is a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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