Does Your Story Really Matter?

by Joe Bunting | 62 comments

There is more noise than ever before, and for the writer trying to build an audience and get people to read her work, it can be discouraging.

Does Your Story Matter?

Let's take a look at the numbers:

  • There are currently over 181 million blogs
  • Three million books were published in 2011. That's one book for every 100 or so people in the US.
  • The chances of getting your book published traditionally are somewhere between 5% and .1% (1 in 20 to 1 in a thousand).
  • If you give up on a traditional publisher and decide to self-publish, the average self-published book sells somewhere between 20 and 100 copies.

For the aspiring writer, those are not great numbers to hear, and in the midst of all that noise, you might wonder, “Does my story really matter?”

Your Story Matters to Someone

Before I decided to be a writer, I wanted to be a singer / songwriter. I thought I was going to play my songs to thousands of people and become the next John Mayer. What really happened was I played at a few empty coffee shops and seedy bars. I was desperate for an audience, but I could never manage to break through.

On a retreat from the world, I randomly wrote a story about a friend who was struggling with an addiction, and when I got home, for some reason I decided to submit it to a tiny newsletter. I didn't think much about it. I just did it on a whim.

All of a sudden, I had people calling me, telling me how much the story meant to them. Friends of the family, grown men, told me the story made them cry. But what surprised me the most was that my dad (the handsome guy in the picture above) had read it and told me he loved it.

That's when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I didn't have much of an audience. I hadn't written a bestseller. But my story had touched someone, and that was all that mattered.

Tell Your Story

Don't worry about your audience. Don't worry if you're going to make a lot of money or if you're going to get famous. Just tell your story.

Tell it bravely. Tell it vulnerably.

Tell your story as best as you can.

If your story is bravely told, it might not be a bestseller, but it will matter to someone (share this?).

At the very least, your story will matter to you.

Are you discouraged by the amount of competition in publishing? How do you handle it?

PRACTICE

Tell a vulnerable story, a story that captures the depths of you.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, and if you feel comfortable, share your story in the comments section.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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62 Comments

  1. CharlotteHall

    This is more introspective than I ever usually am, and I realise that a lot of people have much more serious, tragic stories to tell, but this shows, I think the ‘depths of me’ and is kinda relevant. Just a disclaimer.

    It’s been a long time since I really let down my walls. I
    feel like, when I was younger, I was braver. I was happier. I didn’t worry
    about what everyone else thought, because I was cool. I had friends, and I was
    (nearly) top of my class, and I didn’t have anyone to look up to – except for
    my older friends, but I knew that one day I’d be just like them.

    And then I moved up
    to Secondary School. It didn’t happen straight away, it wasn’t like, all of a
    sudden, I couldn’t speak to people because I knew they’d think I was weird or
    ugly or just not popular. It was a slow thing, that started with my friends
    getting sick of my neuroses (that I’ve always been to mortified by to mention)
    and teasing me for it; started with my brother, my twin who’d always been
    exactly what he’d said on the tin, getting nervous and drawing away and hating
    everything. It started with losing all my friends, at least for a while, in
    just two years. It started with seeing other girls growing up faster than me,
    and wanting to be like them… but not quite getting there.

    For a long while,
    writing was something I couldn’t even mention, a dirty secret. It wasn’t the
    done thing. And that’s the thing I most regret. I’m not over that fear, that
    stigma, not just yet. It’s hard to be battered on two fronts; the first, that
    writing isn’t good, and the second, that no one will think that what I write is
    worth reading, but I try.

    And I try with people, too. Although they might not like me,
    although they might think I’m weird, I try. The last time I tried, really truly
    tried, was as close to the self that I am in the middle of all the different
    people I am to make others happy, it backfired. But I’m going to keep trying.

    One day, I’ll find a friend, a true friend, who I’m brave
    enough to show my whole character to.

    Perhaps I already have.

    Reply
    • CharlotteHall

      Thank you

    • Heather Marsten

      I am praying you find those friends (plural). So far, people here have been supportive. What’s nice about writing is that it can be shared or not, depending. But I’m sure what you are writing is worth reading. Have a blessed Christmas.

    • CharlotteHall

      Merry Christmas 🙂

    • Karl Tobar

      Please do keep trying. And don’t ever think that anyone’s problems are more important than yours. Somebody somewhere shares your feelings right now and I salute you for putting this up! Aw what the heck I think a hug is in order!

    • CharlotteHall

      Thank you very much. I like hugs 🙂

  2. Jenny Tavernier

    This is, purely and simply – totally excellent! SO many I know get bogged down in the complexities of what it takes these days – their eyes not on their story or what they want to say, their own purpose in writing, but what, and how important it is to “Cant for the teeming masses”.

    I have copied this off, (with your name and the site, lol!), and am passing this off to everyone I know who has writing seeds and failures or doubts. Thank you for the simplicities, and the comparisons. Yes, the numbers game can be quite overwhelming. But it is important NOT to get ahead of one’s self. (Believe me, that way will leave you lost among the bogs!)

    But we all need to remember, It starts at ONE.

    There is a delightful accompanying piece today at Writer Unboxed. It follows and is strengthened by first reading yours.

    Thank you Joe!
    , This should be in any writer’s basics toolbox, or hanging on the wall, which is just what I did.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Wow, thanks Jenny! I’m so glad this made an impact with you. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  3. DS

    Great thought – writes and edits books that change lives. The human mind is designed in a way to use stories to learn concepts and ideas. How many times have we turned to written words to be inspired – to overcome – to survive? I try not to think about the discouragement. That’s been a life choice for me in all endeavors. I’ve never been 100% fully supported, and I’ve always had negative responders to my hopes and dreams. I believe if you want it, you’re willing to work hard for it, you do it the right way, and you don’t give up – you can achieve great things. If you don’t believe in it as the creator – chances are I’m not going to believe in it either.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Very true, DS. If you don’t do the hard work yourself, you will never break through. And even if you don’t “break through,” the work itself is good. Best of luck to you.

  4. PJ Reece

    Writer’s motto: “YOU NEVER KNOW TO WHOM YOU’RE SPEAKING.”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Great motto, PJ.

  5. Heather Marsten

    This is a scene for my memoir. I was sexually abused by my father with my mother’s full knowledge. In this scene, my sister-in-law helped me buy training bras, I was in fifth grade. This was a conversation between my mother and myself, and then her setting me up again with my father. After this scene, he comes into my room that evening to continue his abuse. The working title is Tell Me What He Did which was my mom’s question after each and every “visit.”

    After Maria drops me off from our shopping trip, Mommy says, “So, what’d she get you?”

    “Two training bras and a blouse.” I show Mommy the turquoise blouse. “Maria says
    this color brings out the blue in my eyes. And look,” I point to my chest, “I’m
    already wearing one of my bras.”

    “You don’t need a bra yet.”

    “Maria says I do. ‘Sides, every girl in my class wears one but me.” My mouth waters at the smell of the onions and peppers Mommy’s sautéing for chili. Maria said if I don’t wear a bra, my breasts’ll hang down like yours.

    “You’re growing up too fast. You’re no longer my little baby.”

    I’m not your baby. I’m twelve years old, almost a teenager. I grab apple juice from the refrigerator and sit at the table. “Maria says I have to get plastic surgery for that scar on my back or I’ll never look good in a swimsuit.”

    “Maria says. Maria says. If Maria says jump off a bridge, would you?” Mommy browns hamburger and adds chili powder. “Ever since she came over from Germany she has all these high-falutin’ ideas about things. Everything’s better in Germany. Bet their shit doesn’t stink in Germany.” Mommy takes a sip of orange juice. “Why didn’t she stay there instead of marrying your brother? She’s been nothing but trouble.”

    It takes everything I’ve got not to roll my eyes and sigh. “But, I do have that
    scar.”

    “On your back; no one will see it.”

    “Unless I’m wearing a swimsuit.” Maybe the scar is why Daddy doesn’t love me. “How’d I get it?”

    “Get what?”

    “The scar.”

    After dumping beans and tomato sauce into the pot, Mommy lowers the heat under the chili. She sits at the table, takes a sip of orange juice, and blows a cloud of
    cigarette smoke. “You were born with an ugly, red strawberry birthmark. When
    you turned six-months-old, it got irritated. Doctor said, if he burns it off
    with dry ice, it would leave a barely noticeable scar.”

    “Maria noticed it.”

    “You know, we had to bring you five months in a row to burn it off. After each time
    you had a blister this high.” She holds her fingers about an inch apart. “When
    we got home, I’d lay you facedown on my lap and hold you for hours ‘cause you
    screamed so much. Once Daddy laid you across his lap and beat you ‘cause you
    wouldn’t stop crying. I was afraid he’d pop your blister.”

    To block the image of him hitting me, I pinch my arm and take a deep breath. It’s
    not working. Before I start to cry, I get up and tell her, “Gotta finish my
    homework.” What’s wrong with me? He didn’t even love me when I was a baby. At my desk, I draw a picture of a skin cell, labeling the parts for health class. I pull the elastic on my bra. It’s a bit tight. Guess bras take some getting used to.

    When Daddy gets home from work, I come to the kitchen and sit at the table. Mommy helps him out of his uniform and shoes. She hands him a beer and says to me, “Shirley, take off your blouse and show Daddy your new bra.”

    Whose side are you on? Standing in front of him, I unbutton my blouse and turn around so he can see the bra and my breasts from all angles. Wish I could sink into the ground and disappear.

    As soon as possible I button my blouse and mumble, “Need to finish my homework.”

    Reply
    • Heather Marsten

      There are a couple of places in this that should have been in italics – if it seems – the Line about my breasts hanging down like my mom’s. and the Whose side are you on.

    • Karl Tobar

      I can see those parts in italics but honestly I read and comprehended just fine without them.

    • Adam Smusch

      Wow Heather! This is a very disturbing and powerful piece. I hope the rest of your memoir writes easily!

    • Heather Marsten

      Thanks, it doesn’t write easily, but it is improving as I go. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending 🙂

    • Karl Tobar

      Holy mackerel.
      It takes a strong person to share something like this. I guess overcoming problems makes us stronger people. This is proof of that, because look at you now! You’re writing things, and you’re good at it! Way to go. -pats you on the back-

    • Heather Marsten

      Your comment made me smile – yep, difficulties do make us stronger. And I’m learning as I go. Thanks for the pats on the back 🙂

    • Heather Marsten

      Thank you for your encouragement. You are right, it is a hard story to share, but I’m hoping people will be encouraged. The end is good – I’m a happily married mom of three wonderful young adults. My kids did not suffer abuse and I have true joy and peace. But it took me a long time to achieve this goal. I appreciate your feedback. Hoping you have a Merry Christmas.

    • Rose Gardener

      This is heart-breaking, Heather, but courageous of you to share. Your mother’s collusion in the crimes against you must have left another scar, albeit an invisible one. I hope when you finish your memoirs and have them published that others will find the outcome of your story uplifting and encouraging. I’m sure they will.

    • Heather Marsten

      Rose, thanks. Yes, in the post I put up for today I deal with that with a therapist. I chose not to believe she was colluding with my father, but found out later that she was – she was trying to make sure he didn’t abandon her. Even though the subject matter is painful, the end is uplifting and encouraging. Real healing is possible. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Kevin Castanuela

      Wow thank you for sharing this. It’s amazing the things we can survive and overcome. Good for you and I do believe your story will help many others overcome similar experiences. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    • Heather Marsten

      Thank you Kevin. Yes, we are survivors. And there are so many out there who also have to face great pain. I pray that they find ways to survive and find joy in life. Praying you have a wonderful Christmas

    • Beck Gambill

      Heather, I appreciate the easy comfortable way in which you wrote about a very painful topic. Sometimes I feel heavy after reading, and almost responsible, after reading about a girl’s abuse. But you didn’t put that pressure on me in your style. I could feel empathy and sorrow without it being crushing or too dark. That’s a very impressive balance to achieve I think. Thanks for sharing something so vulnerable.

    • Heather Marsten

      This comment means a lot to me because it means that people can feel the topic but not be burdened. Years ago, when I tried to write my story, I was still emotionally a wreck and bled out all over the page. I’m encouraged that that is not happening to the reader.

    • Yvette Carol

      You are a brave soul, Heather! Well written.

    • Heather Marsten

      Thanks. I’m hoping my memoir will help others.

    • Lonzie Helms

      This is powerful, like I feel for you through that.

  6. Karl Tobar

    Joey started high school feeling like an outcast. He died his hair black and stole cigarettes from his parents whom he’d despised inexplicably. Had he known at the time that they did love him and they wanted him to be happy, his life might have been a polar opposite of what it had become. He had no reason to believe he was neglected; he had a roof over his head and full meals every night. Blinded by teen angst and the social scene, he became a social pariah and sabotaged his sophomore year in high school.

    “What do you want to do then? What will make you happy?” His parents tried to get to the root of the problem. Joey relayed that he’d like to go to a different high school: the alternative high school for kids who’d not functioned well in a typical high school setting.

    The school was a dream come true. He had smaller classes, nicer kids and teachers and things were great. He took up a guitar class where he’d met a friend he came to idolize. A kid with tattoos and long hair and perfectly good grades, Joey found a kid he wanted to be like. It was this kid who’d introduced to Joey a drug called meth.

    What a wonder drug it was! Just get high and stay up all night practicing guitar, Joey thought, it was easy. He’d be a rock star in no time flat! Within a matter of weeks he began getting all the compliments in the world on his guitar playing. Thank you, Meth. And it was so easy to get.

    A sober Joey might have noticed the blind eye he turned to his family and his true friends, the ones he’d left behind. A sober Joey might have recognized that it was selfishness like his that drove people like him to hurt others, to commit crimes against humanity and loved ones, all the while oblivious to the damage being done to his body. Inside and outside his body and his brain rotted.

    Joey didn’t become a rock star; Joey had barely started a band. He’d fallen into a spiral of problems to which he truly believed getting high would answer. Staying up all night thinking long and hard about every minute detail of his life; how could he not find an answer?

    Only time would separate Joey and his best friend, Meth. When that separation came Joey realized what a terrible person he had been. He made amends with his parents who stuck with him all six years. Six years of selfishness and loneliness, and that’s what it took for Joey to look himself in the eye and confront his homosexuality.

    He told his family. What a loving, supporting family he had. They didn’t disown him, they didn’t shun him. His father disagreed with his sexual orientation, but a sober Joey appreciated the fact that his father still loved him regardless. A sober Joey realized that someone less fortunate may have been disowned, or worse, beaten.

    Author’s Note~
    Joey is me, and he is a very happy person living a very normal life. 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Marsten

      I loved your expression – fallen into a spiral of problems. This is a powerful story to tell – what you wrote here could be the makings of a memoir – if so, I’d love to see the pieces fleshed out more, shown with examples. As it is, I love that you had a supportive family who stuck by you in your downward spiral. Glad that you separated from your false friend – Meth. Looking forward to reading more of your story.

    • Karl Tobar

      Thank you for your kind words. And thanks for the idea of expanding this. I don’t know if I will, but it’s good to know that I have the option and someone is interested.

    • CharlotteHall

      Happy to hear that you’re happy now 🙂 you write beautifully

    • Rose Gardener

      I like how you personified Meth as Joey’s friend. There are a lot of experiences here which will be a great resource to draw upon in your writing. Glad your family stood by you and accepted you for who you are.

    • Kevin Castanuela

      Wow Karl such an amazing story. I am so glad to see and know the person you are today. Again you did a great job with this piece.

  7. Karl Tobar

    And, Mr. Joe Bunting, this post is excellent! A simply wonderful way to look at writing. You rock!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ha! Thanks Karl!

  8. Kevin Castanuela

    I’m new to Write Practice and I hope this isn’t too detailed or graphic.

    I remember these events as if they were yesterday. It was the beginning of something that would last a couple of years and would also take many years to overcome and except as a part of my past. It all started one day when I was playing in our yard near the club house my dad had built for me and my brother.

    The neighbor boy Sean, who was four years older than me, came over and started talking to me. He was always really kind and watched out for me and his younger siblings too. So it wasn’t strange that he came over to talk to me because I knew him pretty well. I was 12 at the time which made him 16. I went into the club house and he followed me in. He asked me if I had a girlfriend yet. I responded no that I did not but told him that I really liked his sister who was my age and we were in the same class too. He smiled and laughed a little bit. I sat on the floor and he sat right next to me. He began to ask me if I knew what sex and masturbation was. I told him I knew what sex was but not masturbation.

    He started telling me about my body and how it was going to change and how his body had already made a lot of those changes. He told me to stand up and I did because I had no reason not to trust Sean he had always been so nice to me. He told me to take off my clothes so he could see if I had already started puberty. I didn’t want to but he told me it was okay that he just wanted to make sure I was normal like him.

    I wanted to be normal so I took off my clothes and he inspected my body. He stood up and began to undress. He told me that he wanted to show me what my body would look like as I got older. He stood there naked in front of me and told me to look at him closely. I noticed how different his body looked compared to mine and was curious about his body. He told me to touch his body and feel his muscles on his stomach so I did.

    His penis began to rise and he told me it was a normal response to being touched by someone. I pulled my hand back and wanted to put my clothes back on. He then asked me if I wanted to watch him masturbate so I could learn how to do it to myself. I was a bit curious but didn’t want to be naked anymore so I said no that I needed to get back inside my parents would be home from work soon and I had chores. We got dressed and I went inside. I remember feeling awkward with what had just happened but didn’t say anything to anyone about it.

    This was the start of two years of being molested by my neighbor Sean. I never told anyone about it for many years until I was confronted by my past. I even denied the fact that it was molestation and convinced myself that I was an equal participant in everything that occurred.

    It was about 14 years later that I was finally forced to face the truth. I was at the grocery store in the produce section when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face the person who tapped me and it was Sean. He was there with his wife and kids which he introduced to me. I was speechless and shocked. I gathered and composed myself and put on a smile. The conversation lasted less than five minutes and as I walked away all the memories and experiences flooded my mind. I worked nights at the time and showed up for work that night as normal but everything wasn’t normal. My coworker knew something was wrong and she asked if I was okay. That simple question is all it took and I had a complete breakdown.

    That last part happened three years ago and after a lot of therapy and support from friends I can openly talk about my experiences. Not only was I molested by Sean but also a female cousin of mine when I was even younger. I have accepted my past and have made great strides towards my future.

    I’m a happy 29 year old guy that loves life and everyone that I’ve welcomed
    into it. Thanks for reading.

    Reply
    • Heather Marsten

      Thank you for sharing this painful experience. There is an agent called Cec Murphy who has a blog on this topic called Shattering the Silence. He has written several books that might be helpful. You shared your story very powerfully and my heart was impacted by the pain that is shown in such a powerful way. I can imagine the shock and as I was reading wondered what you thought, and also how you overcame these hurts. This story is one that could encourage others who faced similar abuse. Thanks for your brave honesty.

    • Kevin Castanuela

      Thank you. I will check out the Shattering the Silence and the Cec Murphy as well. I have often considered writing my story from the start, to my denial about what it was, and my journey to accepting myself for who I am and realizing my past is apart of me but doesn’t dictate who I am.

    • Barry Hamilton

      Thank you for this story, and the courage it took to tell it.

    • Joe Bunting

      This was hard to read, Kevin, but I’m honored by your willingness to share this with us and your courage. I hope your story will help others struggling with similar things.

    • Kevin Castanuela

      Thanks and sorry for the graphic nature of the story. I know that it maybe taboo to discuss topics such as this so openly especially with as much detail as I put into it.

    • Karl Tobar

      Wow, that’s tough. Good to see you doing so well after having dealt with that.

    • Rose Gardener

      Kevin, your story reminded me of a character in one of Jodi Picoult’s novels who said about her rape, ”It happened to me, I could not prevent it. It has not destroyed me, I will not let it.” I can see that your experiences have not destroyed you and I am glad of it. Finding the words that night at work must have been difficult. I hope that writing it down was easier for you.

  9. Beck Gambill

    I only wore jean jumpers that one year, but it was enough. Enough to label me forever as the dorky homeschooler, at least in my mind. What a generous, adventurous Mom I had, to take on the education of three youngsters herself. And not just their education, but their enlightenment. It was marvelous. Why would something marvelous cause me shame? Other than I gave the stereotype credence, which gave it life, and power over me.

    The jumpers were left behind, just a memory, and pictures, the only witnesses, were tucked away to bare their shame in darkness. I made sure no one in my acquaintance knew of their existence. For years my heart skipped a beat, and I brushed quickly over my education, when the conversation turned toward the past, as if trying to hide an illegitimate child.

    Looking into the blue eyes of my eight year old homeschooler, I remember the tug of desire to belong to two separate worlds. Home with Mom and learning that was a delight, or a place among my peers. I wonder, how do I bridge that gap in his generation?

    Reply
    • CharlotteHall

      I love your phrase ‘tug of desire to belong to two separate worlds’. You really phrase things wonderfully.

      As for your son, the grass is always greener on the non-dorky side for dorks. There’s not always much you can do to ‘bridge that gap’. If you can tell him about your experiences, and then trust him, he’ll be fine. I know a nice and perfectly normal girl, who also happens to have been homeschooled and now goes to a kind of halfway school where she does three days a week and hardly has any rules to follow. She’s the envy of all her non-homeschooled friends. 🙂

    • Beck Gambill

      Thanks Charlotte, it’s good to know of a nice and perfectly normal homeschooled girl other than myself and that she’s doing just fine!

  10. Dawnheart

    Can a sci-fi /fantasy story resonate with someone as much as a realistic story would? I know lots of people including myself LIKE it but even I think John Green’s books are more meaningful than .. Well. But at the same time–Lord of the Rings, right? And the Hobbit!!! If anyone has other suggestions of favorite sci fi/fantasy books, I would really appreciate it. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      That’s a great point. Sci-fi/fantasy generally relies more on spectacle than on emotional resonance. It’s interesting to see literary writers like Margaret Atwood exploring science-fiction though. Personally, I love the Dune series, but still, I don’t love it in the same way I love To Kill a Mockingbird, for example.

    • Yvette Carol

      Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Mists of Avalon”.

  11. Sayyada Dharsee

    (A little history, because my story draws on it and I don’t think it’d be clear without some information: in Shi’a Islamic History, there was a man called Husayn who was the grandson of the Prophet. Husayn fought a battle against the Caliph of the time, and it ended with the death of his entire army. Amongst the stories that are told of the army of Husayn, there is the story of his brother ‘Abbas. After water was cut off from the camp, ‘Abbas volunteered to go bring water for their army and their family. However, he was attacked and his arms were cut off, and he was then killed.)

    I remember strange moments from my early life, the most random of moments. I remember running up and down the stairs of our old flat, singing; I remember refusing cake at school because it didn’t have enough icing on it; I remember playing with a floppy disk, pulling the catch back and forth. I also remember sitting in a dark mosque as people around me sobbed, recounting the tales of bravery and sacrifice of years gone past. Too young to fully relate with what they talked about, unable to empathise and cry, I remember pressing my arms to my body and trying to imagine how it would feel to have no arms.

    For years, I went to mosque and listened to the stories. Sitting in the midst of black-clad people, mourning someone we had never met but who had given up all he had to ensure that we had our religion, I would feel a strange sense of attachment to the people who were being spoken about. As preachers narrated and reciters sang dirges, I would cover my ears and bury my head in my black clothes.

    I would imagine myself being there, at those critical moments when everything fell apart. I would be running, burning sand slipping into my flimsy sandals. I could never decide where to go—every time I imagined this, I asked myself where I was going. Was I running towards the young man who was killed by a spear to his back, the same age as my kind, cake-baking cousin brother, to scream at the spear-thrower to stop? Was I going to the nine and ten year old brothers, who fought back-to-back, to stand in front of them? Was I running to block the arrow that would pierce the throat of a six-month-old baby? Was I trying to find the four year old orphan girl and give her my own clothes as her dress was set on fire?

    In spite of the indecision, I always ended up at the same place. I still do not know why. I would be near the mockingly cool waters of a river, running towards a body lying on the sand. His arms would be on the ground, together with the standard of the army that held his brother’s hope, and the water-skin that he had risked everything to protect. As I ran, I would step on the water that spilt when arrows pierced the skin. Then I would reach him, and I would stop.

    They called him the epitome of loyalty. A warrior, he was commanded not to go fight, but only to find water. He had taken the water-skin of the soon-to-be-orphan four year old, and promised her that he would bring water. His niece. She had seen the standard fall as his arm was cut off in the distance, and she prayed for him. I would see a man, running across the desert.

    “My brother!” He would cry. “Oh, my back is broken! My support is gone!”

    And I would watch the two of them, ‘Abbas lying in his last moments on the sand; Husayn running to reach him. Two brothers. The standard bearer of the army and the commander. What could I do? I never went any further than that—I just stood there, wanting to say so much, wanting to do so much, but unable to.

    Years down the line, I scream at God. I don’t pray. I look at the Qur’an and feel like my heart is being broken into a million pieces, and I always end up crying. I sit on my bed and wonder what I’m doing with my life. I ask if I’ll ever be worth something, if I’ll ever have what I used to call an Adventure. Earphones in, I fall asleep at the keyboard, my fingers still tapping out half-formed words.

    I bury myself in words and books and studying. Then I find him again. In the midst of my Arabic works to translate is poetry, religious poetry. The words are filled with memories of myself in a time when I could feel things in the mosque and when I ran across the burning sands to someone who had somehow taken hold of my heart. My fingers shake as I turn the pages of my dictionary and tap out translations, word by word, my heart breaking a little more as I understand each letter.

    I put my earphones in and scroll through files in search of the Arabic poetry I listened to so long ago. I shut my eyes and, even though I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, even though I’m not quite sure who this God person is, even though the thought of discussing religion makes me feel nauseous, I can feel that pure heartache of loss. Whatever my state elsewhere, for the moment, I am seeing people who sacrificed everything to stand up for their principles. Their beliefs.

    I am standing on the sand again. Everything shimmers in the desert heat. I can make out a form lying there, an armless body. I can remember falling down the stairs the last time I tried to play arm-less, and I swallow painfully.

    “Hello,” I say, not sure if the words are even audible, or if they hang in the air, scrawled by invisible scribes and recorded forever. “It’s me. I know you remember me. I think… I think I’m back. I think the words have brought me back.”

    I am quite certain that he replied. “We have been waiting for a long time,” he says. “Welcome back.”

    Reply
    • Karl Tobar

      Wonderful

    • Audrey Chin

      I love this story of reconnection with who God is. THank you for sharing.

    • Zoe Beech

      Wow. This is very hectic, but it’s beautifully written. I love how you write the memories of things as snippets – it’s very effective.

  12. Lis

    They sat us down on the couch… well, more like she sat us down on the couch. By this point dad was already crying a little. My brother wasn’t with us, he was only 8 then. My sister and I, 13 and 14 sat there a little confused. We hadn’t heard them fighting much lately… well, no more then usual. Mom hadn’t been home as much though, going out after work often, spending time with friends by herself… that we hadn’t met. My mom explained what I can only assume is the typical conversation in a situation like this. They were getting divorce. This is something I never worried about and didn’t expect to hear.
    I don’t know if everything went to hell because they were going through a divorce or because my mother had become a complete mess. I am not her and have not lived her life. As a wife and mother now, life doesn’t seem a simple as I though it would be. I try not to judge my parent so much now for their choices. I try not to judge her.

    Reply
  13. Lis

    They sat us down on the couch… well, more like she sat us down on the couch. By this point dad was already crying a little. My brother wasn’t with us, he was only 8 then. My sister and I, 13 and 14 sat there a little confused. We hadn’t heard them fighting much lately… well, no more then usual. Mom hadn’t been home as much though, going out after work often, spending time with friends by herself… that we hadn’t met. My mom explained what I can only assume is the typical conversation in a situation like this. They were getting divorce. This is something I never worried about and didn’t expect to hear.
    I don’t know if everything went to hell because they were going through a divorce or because my mother had become a complete mess. I am not her and have not lived her life. As a wife and mother now, life doesn’t seem a simple as I though it would be. I try not to judge my parent so much now for their choices. I try not to judge her.

    Reply
  14. Zoe Beech

    She sat five desks away, but I was always knew where she was. She gave laugh that folded in onto itself and then came out through her teeth. Groups formed around her. She was the queen of our classroom, a beautiful combination of wit and humble charm.

    If she was everyone else’s queen, she may have been my God. We walked home together, and she talked while I listened furiously, holding onto every snippet of her weekends, and interior life which was a shining mystery to me. I passed her house every day and called goodbye as I watched her walk into a different world. What lay inside the plain brick walls, and beyond the empty driveway? It was a sparse house, lacking in ambience and soul, but I quivered every time I passed it. Kay was inside there, probably laughing. I was going home to a shimmering pool, ferns and flowers, and dogs whose joy knocked me over when I walked back into their world. But, O Lord, it was empty to me.

    It was a hot day when Kay attacked me. I remember my sweat clinging onto my white school dress. I was packing up my books languidly, thinking of the cold water I’d fall into when I got home.

    Kay and the other girls were giggling around her. They often giggled and I didn’t have time for such foolishness. Especially because it never involved me. Besides, school was for mitochondria and Gatsby, not passing notes or talking about getting wasted. I had my little white report card at the end of the year to keep me on the straight and narrow, as well as Jesus (and He was lurking around every corner in our Catholic girls school). I knew He took everything just as seriously as I did.

    The giggling got hysterical. I rolled my eyes. Then they turned and looked at me, and that’s when I knew something was wrong. I focused on my desk, opening it very slowly, and pulling the books out of it with the greatest of care.

    ‘Oh Zoe!’ Kay exclaimed, her body shaking with the laughs. That’s when I knew she thought something was hilarious. ‘The day Zoe gets a boyfriend pigs will fly.’

    The other girls shrieked with laughter, and I held Gatsby close to my heart. She was too bent over with laughter to notice my wound. The sound of my zip ripping closed was louder than normal. I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked to the open door, watching the tiles gleam as I left the room.

    ~ ~ ~

    Just for the record, Kay and I became great friends, and I loosened up a whole bunch!!

    Reply
  15. Kate Hall

    Great post! I needed this. So often, I’m wondering, ‘what’s the point? Why am I writing? Why do I want people to read my stuff?’ Being reminded that SOMEONE needs to hear it, even if it’s just one (thank goodness it’s not just one) is so encouraging. Thanks!

    Reply
  16. Eyrline

    I’m to write relating to my characters. Who are my characters? Those about whom I write — it’s a vicious cycle. I’ll start with a four year old little girl. For the first time, she was allowed to sit in “big church.” She heard the majestic “King of Instruments.” She was in love. She had to see that machine producing those glorious sounds. Her mother took her into the balcony of the church to look down on the organ and the organist playing the pedals with her feet. She had three keyboards plus the keyboard for her feet. The music was hypnotizing. I told my mother I was going to play that organ some day.

    As soon as the girl’s legs were long enough, she started lessons on that instrument. Imagine her joy when the organist asked her to play for a church service. Of course, she was frightened, but the love of the instrument took over and she played wonderfully. She continued taking lessons until she left the church. Every where she went, there was an opening for an organist: Detroit, El Paso, and back to Oklahoma City. She was disappointed when her church turned her down to be the assistant organist, due to a divorce from someone abusive. In those days, divorce was a disgrace and taboo in the Baptist church. However, there was another church needing an organist. That lasted until she made another mistake and married still the wrong person. This is a lesson in listening to God. She was listening as far as playing the organ, but not for a mate. Time went on and more organ jobs, non as fulfilling as playing her first love. It was after loosing four husbands to death that she found the right mate, and was asked to be organist at her first church on that wonderful organ. But, it had been mis-treated and not maintained for ten years or so. Her husband was a well known organ technician, but without thousands of dollars in parts, it couldn’t be fixed. Still she lived her dream of playing that Majestic “King of Instruments.”

    Reply
  17. Arlen Miller

    I like it, Joe. Thanks for writing. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply

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