Behold the power of story

Chinese baby

Just for clarity: I have never been a Chinese woman. Except for a few minutes this morning.

Just 15 minutes ago or so, I was listening to NPR on the radio as I was driving in to work. They were interviewing Jenna Cook about her search for her birth mother. Like most of you, I have been aware for a long time that international adoptions are not uncommon, and even that the situations that lead to such adoption are quite complex. But I had never been touched by those complexities.

Steve Inskeep interviewed her about her experience. Among other effects, it confirmed for me once again the power of story–of an individual facing a challenge and being changed by the experience.

For instance, one fact stuck out for me early: she talked with 50 families, almost all of whom had abandoned a baby near the spot where she had been found. Jenna made clear that there were many factors coming together that led these families to take such action. Don’t get lost in “how could someone do that?” Here’s the thing: the idea that there were 50 families with such a similar specific experience–not just abandoning a baby, but abandoning a baby at that very spot–made more of an impact on me than the bigger statistic that Chinese orphanages still receive about 10,000 unwanted babies a year.

But I didn’t feel the full impact until Jenna told about one particular woman who had made a suit for her baby to prepare for the day they would leave her at this spot. She had kept a bit of the cloth that had formed the suit, hoping that later she would be able to find her daughter, and they would know each other because the bit of cloth the mother had matched the cloth of the suit the daughter (she hoped) would still have.

That specific detail, and Jenna’s lack of having such a suit, and her desire to fulfill the wish of this sobbing mother–all of that left me sitting in the parking lot listening to this story in tears of my own. As I type this, they are welling up again.

For your speeches, for your writing, look for the specifics. Look for the stories. They are how we connect. Obviously, I’ve never been a Chinese mother. I have never, and can never, directly experience what that woman felt. But for those few moments Steve Inskeep and Jenna Cook put me right there in that neighborhood in the huge city of Wuhan, China, sobbing for my lost child and lost in the unknown of what happened to her.

Again, for the record: Jenna did not find her birth mother on that trip; none of the 50 families, hoping to learn the end of another story, got their answer. The story, for all, continues.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.