The Gift of Storytelling

In the litany of hospitality choices, B&B’s (bed and breakfasts) would fall at the bottom of my list. There is something about the intimacy of them that unsettles me. But during a trip to Camden, Maine one summer, my partner and I decided to get the full New England experience and booked a room at a B&B for several nights, using it as a base camp to explore the surrounding area. We entered this establishment with our guards up, prepared for an onslaught of chintz, cat hair, and talkers.

But our guard started to lower on our first morning at breakfast. Our hostess greeted us softly, poured coffee, and gave us some space to waken to the day. There were three or four other couples in the breakfast room, and we found ourselves quickly slipping into conversation with them, exchanging names, home towns, plans for the day, etc. As we stood to leave, we wished everyone well and said we were looking forward to seeing them tomorrow at breakfast the next morning. Walking out the door, my partner whispered under his breath, “My God, we’ve become B&B people.”

While we met several couples during our four days at this B&B, we found ourselves spending the most time each morning talking with Ted and Maggie from Alabama. They were about 20 years older than us, had beautiful Southern accents, and seemed like a wonderful couple still very much in love.

We bumped into Ted and Maggie on our last night in town at a restaurant we were both dining at. When we were done with our dinner, we stopped by their table to say goodnight. They both looked incredibly happy, almost radiant as we made polite small talk. Ted was telling us about their day trip to Acadia National Park and was in mid-sentence when Maggie excitedly thrust out her hand and proclaimed, “We got engaged today.”

Thrilled for them (and a bit surprised they weren’t married), we oohed and awed at the ring and offered our heartfelt congratulations. Maggie looked down at her ring and then up at us and said, “I know we don’t know y’all that well, but this happened earlier today, and we hadn’t told anyone yet, and I had just had to tell someone, and we have so enjoyed getting to know you two, and so I’m telling you.”

Over the next few minutes, they told us how they were a relatively new couple, dating only for five or six months, though they’d known each other for decades when both of their former spouses were still alive. They confided that, while Maggie’s kids were very supportive of their romance, Ted’s were not. (“To Hell with them,” Ted muttered.) And they told us how much they loved being in love, and how grateful they were that their long friendship had blossomed into something more.

Maggies engagement ring

After congratulating them again and wishing them a good night, we made our way quietly back to the B&B, warmed by the glow of the moment. “That was just about the sweetest thing that’s ever happened,” my partner offered, breaking the silence. “There was something so, I don’t know, generous about it, them sharing their story with us. I feel honoured.”

Later that evening, I realized how much sharing one’s story can be a gift to an audience, whether it’s two people or two hundred. We are made richer in hearing someone’s story, and as my partner observed, we feel honoured that the storyteller has entrusted us with it. I also realized that everyone has a story not only that they want to tell, but that they need to tell. For instance, I am fairly certain that Maggie would have literally exploded if she had to hold the story of her engagement in much longer…which would’ve been an unfortunate end to an otherwise joyous day for them.

So, in this season of giving, remember that sharing your story with others is one of the nicest gifts of all. It doesn’t cost you anything, and you don’t need to wrap it, but it will be precious and appreciated all the same.

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