We are all made of stories. Here, with an ocean and a continent between me and home, stories are what make me feel just a little bit closer, combating creeping feelings of homesickness. I’m thinking of those Sunday evenings gathered around the kitchen table, the five of us — doubled over in laughter from the stories shared over a good meal and even better company.
I sat in the company of Peter Storey last week, a leader of the Methodist church in South Africa and a former professor at Duke Divinity School, and most importantly, like his name describes, a master storyteller.
Storey wore a black sweater with the elbow patches worn thin, and had a white halo of hair encompassing his mostly bald head. In the room surrounding him was an odd assortment of items: VHS tapes of the naval battles of WWII, figurines of the Virgin Mary, and a photograph of his late wife, Elizabeth.
Every story he told carried the weight of a life devoted to helping others: He has served as chaplain to prisoners on Robben Island, minister to the District Six neighborhood, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Johannesburg, and an organizer of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Each has informed his perspectives on Christianity and service.
I asked him a question about how his faith has changed as he’s gotten older. He responded by comparing life to a book, one in which his story is only a tiny chapter. And then he turned to me and asked, “And during your chapter, will you expand? Will you grow?”
I can only hope.
I turned twenty this weekend. My chapter feels like it is just beginning, only a collection of a few disjointed paragraphs, full of unknowns and placeholders.
Twenty feels like passing from one country to another, and it feels fitting to transition into a new decade while living in a new continent. I’m comforted by my fellow travelers along the way: sisters, friends, roommates. My parents who swear to once have “been in my shoes” (although I can’t picture it). The whole DukeEngage team who sang to me and danced with me all day — it was a birthday to remember.
Twenty feels impossibly young when sitting next to Peter Storey, who is a spry eighty years-old. At the end of our conversation, he said that as he’s gotten older, he’s become sure of much less than when he was younger. Then he offered these reassuring words: that uncertainty can be a good thing.
Our stories are being rewritten every day. I already feel that this trip is changing mine: Each person and place we’ve visited adds a sentence to my chapter.
Later that day, we hiked to Cape Point, the southwestern-most point of the entire continent. I stood on the rocky peak overlooking the place where the Atlantic and Indian oceans converge, far out in the distance. We marveled at the beauty of the precipice, but deep down I was full of fear. Scared at the fact that so much was unknown out there in the deep, positioned so far south that no more land can be reached for thousands of miles.
Scared at the fact that one year older means one year closer to figuring out the important things: what to do after college, where to live, who to be.
But if I learned anything from Storey’s sage words, it is the importance of trusting the path I am supposed to be on, and not being afraid of what is unknown.
So here I am, ready. And still completely, totally, terrified.