While visiting Hyde School in Bath, Maine, I ate breakfast with a teacher and hometown friend named Sean. We got to talking about our childhoods, specifically the time our parents were members of the Boots & Saddles Club, a riding club in Blackstone, MA.
We would ride the back trails together with our parents on horseback, enjoying the quiet of nature, the camaraderie of friends, and the power of the horse beneath us.
All that came to an end for me when my parents divorced when I was seven or eight, but until then, it was one of the joys of my life.
Sean said, "One of my first memories is of your father." He explained that on a ride one day, we stopped to rest. My father, decked out in his cowboy hat and cowboy boots, dismounted, cracked open a can of beer, drank half of it, and gave the rest to his horse. Poured it right down the horse's throat.
"That was the coolest thing I'd ever seen," Sean said. "I wanted to be just like that guy someday."
Rarely in my life have I been given a better gift than the one Sean gave me that day. The memories of my father are limited. He left my home when I was very young and exited my life at the same time. I rarely saw him after the divorce.
It's a pain in my heart that will never be healed.
But to hear a man talk about my father in such heroic terms, to be given a new image of my dad, a new memory of sorts, was worth the world to me. I was with Dad that day when he poured half a can of beer down a thirsty horse's throat. I may have been standing just a few feet away.
But I don't remember that moment. Or I missed it entirely.
When you have so little of something so precious, the gift of a little more of that rare and precious thing is priceless.
I told Sean that I would speak about the moment he shared that memory with me onstage one day. I told him that I would craft it into a story that will make people cry. I know this because I nearly cried when he told me about his memory of my father.
Sean was surprised. It didn't seem like much to him. But that is the thing about stories:
They are not the measure of what has happened. They are a measure of how a moment has filled our heart. Or cracked it open. Or broken it into pieces. The importance of a moment is often unseen by anyone but the storyteller, and it's the storyteller's job to make the importance of the moment as clear as possible to the audience.
On Sean's end of the table, not much happen. He shared a memory.
On my end of the table, my heart cracked open, spilling out thankfulness and regret, pride and sadness, and a longing for something I can never have. He didn't see any of this, because it all happened on the inside. But of all the things that constantly rattle around in my brain, searching for a home, that moment has been rattling around the most, trapped in the mechanics of thinking and emotion that fill my head.
It'll be a story, all right. A good one if I craft it well. Also a moment I'll never forget.
And an incredible gift.