Five Tiny Stories from SxSW

Janell Burley Hofmann, March 18, 2015

Five Tiny Stories from SxSW

I had a glass of chardonnay. You drank dark beers. The sun was incredible on the restaurant patio. You radiated youth and tech world, start up company bliss. We talked about family. You told me that you fell in love with your baby sister when she was born. And you can only remember having one argument with her in your entire life. And even that was solved pretty quickly. You told me about your education. Your perspective on what worked. Your advice for my son was, “Study anything you want. But go where they ask the hard questions. That’s all that matters. That the people make you think, that they ask you to solve problems, that they ask you the hard questions. Then you can do anything in life.” I was glad I chose the chair with the red cushions on that warm afternoon.

I sat next to you on the plane. At some point we started talking. You told me about your wife and your sons, where you live and work. I loved your story about interviewing pediatricians when your wife was pregnant. When you asked for his professional philosophies, he answered with a question for you, “Do you think you’re going to be good parents?” You both nodded in agreement. He said, “Then you’re probably right. Trust yourself.” There were no more interviews after that day. You told me you hadn’t talked to anyone on a plane in years. I’m glad that changed today.

I sat down next to you under a shady tree midday. You were friendly and spry with one sparkly glove showing the tops of your fingers. When you talked about your work and the millions of dollars your company raised and the new projects you have to bring coding to all economic demographics, I felt encouraged by your passion, by your belief. You were laughing and excited as you spoke. When you jumped up to leave, it was my first twinge of love for this place, a gathering of moving forward, surprising people, creating. Everyone here is a force on the path upward.

It was fun to watch your face change and your shoulders soften when we stopped talking about business and you started telling me about your new baby. Your eyes grew wide and your voice enthusiastic – even your laugh changed. You leaned forward, sharing your wonder – certainly no one has ever felt this way before, it seems. And they do, of course. But it’s ok. I like hearing stories about the feelings and thoughts you couldn’t imagine, until now. In one way or another, we’ve all had to ask ourselves: who was I before this?

You told the panel that they changed your life. That they changed your child’s life. You were crying. The stories they shared online made you feel connected, hopeful, less afraid. And I started to think about the internet and all the ways we see and hear perspectives that could never before be heard. We can feel part of something, belonging, when it isn’t always easy to belong. In my mind, I imagined a wave of empathy, compassion, fearlessness. If we are wise enough to use it well, maybe we’ll all be less afraid. Perhaps we need all of these perspectives. Each one calling to us, asking us to be a little bit more brave with our voice, with our words, with our life. This panel isn’t about a web channel. It’s about courage.

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