Now that Jonesborough has settled back into its normal rhythms and routines, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who attended the National Storytelling Festival—as well as everyone who helped us host— for making it such a grand success.
It’s always wonderful to see friends, storytellers, and visitors arrive in Jonesborough from different parts of the nation each year as the big weekend begins. This year, the weather in East Tennessee was sunny and truly alive with Fall magic. I think the joy of those special arrivals particularly resonated with me this year, since we had another (more divisive) visitor to the area just a week or so before: President Trump, who held a rally at Freedom Hall.
Earlier in the week, as I sat at Main Street Café having lunch and a much-needed breather, I read an op-ed in Jonesborough’s Herald & Tribune newspaper that really captured my sense of things. The author offered her reflections on having the nation’s 45th President visit so close to its 46th annual National Storytelling Festival, a remarkable coincidence of timing. She described the gatherings in terms of the human need to be heard, to be recognized, and to have a voice. These are human needs, and so by definition nonpartisan—something that everyone urgently requires no matter which side of the political divide they may fall on. As the author described the “discord still swirling around us,” I thought about the power that stories hold. Because one of our problems in this historical moment is that people are simply not feeling heard.
One of my jobs as president of ISC is to host a reception to welcome our storytellers, an annual tradition. It’s part of the town’s job, too, to welcome thousands of visitors from across our country and around the world during the long weekend of the Festival. Every year, we come together to appreciate the many different stories that make us who we are. As someone who has traveled the globe, I can say our tiny mountain town during these days is truly a reflection of what a better world could—and hopefully, will—look like in the future.
Knowing our story has been heard, respected, and appreciated is something we all yearn for, as individuals, as groups, and as a society. This need is essential to what stories for peace- and empathy-building are all about. Whether or not we’re ready to “march in unison,” as the author of the op-ed phrased it, we can share our own stories, and respect the stories of others, and the journeys that brought us all together at a particular time and place.
The author of the op-ed describes herself as an advocate for this “best type of activism.” I consider myself to be that kind of advocate—and I want to encourage you to be one, too. Let’s all be ambassadors, not just of our personal stories, but of the Lost Art of Listening, so that everyone feels heard.
Whether you voted this way or that way, whether you hail from near or far away, or are perhaps, an immigrant like me: please know that we will warmly welcome you in Jonesborough. And at the Festival, we proudly welcome people from all walks of life to our stage and into our audience. It is our hope that when our visitors return to their own communities, they take a little piece of the world home to share.
Kiran Singh Sirah