You meet someone new, not a particularly unusual occurrence. Pretty common actually, so much so that we have rituals surrounding it. Think about it. We have prescribed questions ready and waiting. Where are you from? What do you do? How are you? We even have ready to for answers for those questions. I’m from Dallas, a consultant, and fine, or some variation thereof, echo repeatedly in coffee shops daily.
At least they did. Now we do these meetings over videoconferences and phone calls.
It’s no different for me. In meeting over 100 people just for this project, I have told the same story in answer to the same question most of the time. How’d you come up with this idea? It’s an interesting story, one of many, but usually the one people want to hear.
But what would you do if you had to choose one story about someone? Just one to hear, one to learn from? Which one would you choose?
I never thought about that question until I met Jen Coken.
But there I was, on a videoconference with this incredible woman, faced with the choice of one story from many. Did I want to hear about her young life? Her time as a comic? The time she ran for political office? I’ve always put a premium on the stories I hear, but you learn a new appreciation when you know you only get one. Your choice suddenly carries more weight, because this may be the only story you get from this person, and so you feel the pressure to make it count.
How do you choose?
Simple, you just do. I wish I could tell you there’s a right way, but in the end, the stories we collect are always the right ones for the time we hear them.
In my case I ask Jen about the time she ran for office.
Jen Coken is a women whose with and intellect are palpable in the air, a sort of electricity that accompanies a conversation with her. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, not a shocking electricity, but a feeling of warmth and a friendly energy. There is wisdom in her voice and her gaze, mixed with an incredible sense of humor, because the truly wise understand that is one of our keys to survival.
She weaves a tale of a life. Like all lives it has moments that will make you smile, some that will make you cry, and still others that will make you laugh. I find some kinship in the difficult moments she shares, but I will not talk more of those. Some stories are just for those present in the moment.
Jen is a woman who has been passionate about change, about getting the system to work, and showing others that it can for most of her life. As she tells me about the path that led her to realize this passion, and eventually led her to run for office, I realize how much we truly have in common.
I write these stories because I want the world to see the beauty I see in it. Jen ran her campaign, organized for countless causes, gave time, spirit, sweat, and tears to make the world a better place. A place she sees clearly. There are a constant stream of doubts flowing through most of our minds, but sharing a story with this incredibly witty and passionate person helps to calm mine a bit.
The time passes quickly as she tells her story. It’s like watching a master class in my craft, with every moment captured in a line reverberating with smiles, cries, laughter, and lessons. I genuinely don’t want this time to end, want to hear more, but know that it will come to an end. Her story finds its way to conclusion and I find myself happy, blessed by what she’s shared.
After our time together ends, I sit and ponder the things I’ve learned from Jen. That’s how hearing the stories of others often help us, by holding a mirror up to us in the form of a window, with a bit of our reflection cast against the world of another. I think about Jen’s drive and dedication to prove that a system could work, could have integrity, and didn’t need to be a personal war. Images of my many losses and failures go through my mind, but they look less like those downfalls now, less like the losses I’ve assumed them to be.
Sitting back I think I am starting to believe in the system a bit more. Not because the system is a flawless design, far from it, but because of a woman with a playful smile, a brilliant mind, and a sharp wit. I believe in the system because I can believe in someone like Jen.
Because she’s not the only one out there who believes this way, but it took her story for me to believe.
It’s amazing what we can learn from a single story.
I hope to have the chance to hear many more from her.
Social distance and the isolation that accompanies it can be hard for many, especially when you combine it with the stress of our current situation. Please, reach out and connect with people. Share your stories and your time. Use the technology available to stay close to people.
If you want to be a part of this project and share some time and stories with others, or if you just need to connect with someone, reach out to me here.