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Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Author:

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My brother sent me a post on facebook recently that I loved. It didn’t have any information on it, so it’s hard to verify if it’s true or not, but it said, “There are libraries around the world where you can check out a person as a living book and listen to their stories.”

If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written recently, you can guess how much I love this idea. But I noticed many comments on the post echoing a thought in the same key: Why go to a library to hear some stranger’s stories when we don’t even bother to talk to our neighbors or the people around us in restaurants?

While I understand the argument and the sentiment, I think the thing is, when we want to talk, we’re afraid that maybe other people don’t. Where we’d like to hear people’s stories, we’re not sure if the people around us are willing to tell their stories. Or maybe we want to tell our stories, but we’re not sure if the people around us would want to listen.

I have become more introverted as my years have increased in number, so while I am talkative many times, many other times I really do enjoy the solitude and aloneness that can come from traveling alone or dining alone in the company of only strangers. I think we’ve all probably been trapped on a plane next to someone who wanted to talk the whole way when we really just wanted to sleep, read, think, or whatever else it is you do on an airplane.

But aside from that, I think the majority of why we don’t talk, why we don’t share, why we don’t interact with those around us is fear. And that fear that is heavily supported by social conventions. Social conventions that say “Stay quiet.” That say it’s weird to say hello to a stranger standing in the same vicinity. That it’s inappropriate to reach out and interact with someone who has not invited you to do so.

There are of course times, and signs that those social conventions should be abided by (in my opinion). For example, you never need to talk to someone in the next stall over in the bathroom unless you need to embarrassingly ask them to pass you some TP. Or, when you’re at a cafe and you see someone with both of their headphones in, working away at something, it better be for a specific reason that you’re approaching them and asking them to disengage what they’re doing (like, “hey, I’m having a heart attack and my phone is dead, could you call 911 please?”). Not just for general chit chat.

But what I’ve found is that when I get over my fear, my social anxiety that our culture affirms that tells me to just stare at my phone instead of engaging the people around me, and when I finally venture out of myself into the world of others, I have found some beautiful interactions. I have found some beautiful people that are in my life now in large ways because I engaged them or visa versa who I otherwise would’ve just passed by.

The comments on the facebook post are right: we are surrounded by people with incredible stories that we don’t know on a regular basis, and we’ll continue to never know them unless we begin to interact.

I do it the cheating way: I ask people to tell me their stories so I can write it for them, which is an incredible blessing to get to sit in those spaces and hear those tales.

But before I was ever a writer, I was a toddler that would ask you who you were, where you lived, what did you believe.

Then I was the little girl who reached out to the middle aged woman struggling on the ice skating rink and asked if I could help her, and continued to skate with her for the next hour.

When I was very young it came naturally. But then adolescence hit and it was more uncomfortable to reach out. So it became a discipline instead of a natural disposition.

With this discipline, I was the middle school student who went to summer camp and met every single counselor there, and then continued to be friends with many of them for years later — up to and including one who opened a crossfit gym in my hometown when I was an adult and became my trainer.

And on and on.

Some of the dearest people I have in my life today are there because I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I talked with them, reached out, interacting in non-extraordinary ways that sparks extraordinary friendships, adventures, and tales.

So, as I challenge myself regularly, I challenge you: Reach out. Interact. See what happens.

If you want to reach out by encouraging someone you know to have their story written (so you and others can read it and know it), contact me directly (info below), or have them look over the story project website and contact me for next steps.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Author:

I was at the post office. It was 4:40 and I needed to mail a stack of about 7 envelopes all registered mail (meaning, apparently, that I have to fill out a form for each of the already-addressed envelopes with to-from info as well as estimated value included inside, and then they have to be specially sealed, then stamped all around that seal, then addressed again and sealed with an additional sticker of authenticity, and then weighed and posted). I’m tired just writing that.

So I filled out my portion of the form for each of my 7 envelopes hurriedly while I was in line, letting several people go in front of me. By the time I reached the counter it was about 4:50, 10 minutes until the closing. A tall, thin man in his 50s or 60s waived me up to his empty station at the far end of the counter. His name tag told me his name was Ike.

I came up and told him, apologetically, that I needed these 7 envelopes sent by registered mail and the rest sent regular post. He turned and walked away without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he was getting something or heard me or just decided that enough was enough and it was close enough to closing.

I hung in the balance for a good 45 seconds, not knowing, until he turned around the corner with a roll of brown sealing paper in his hand. As he re-joined me at the counter, he set to work slowly, but not dawdling, just taking his precise time, still not saying anything. His face was kind, though, so I started: “How’s your day been today?”

“It was pretty good, then you showed up,” he said dryly, looking up at me with a glint of humor in his brown eyes. A beat. Then he smirked, softly.


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photo credit: TheeErin via photopin cc

We began chatting, slowly at first, with long pauses between conversation topics. But the process to complete my request was long and I was with him for literally 30 minutes, and we chatted about his work, his life, where he’s lived, that I just moved to Colorado…

“When did you move?” he asked, still looking down, busy with his work.

“Last week,” I said, a little too peppy.

He paused. Looked up. “Last week!?” he exclaimed drawing out the emphasis like Bill Cosby would when talking to his kids.

“Yessir,” I said, smiling, friendly.

“Man. Well, I think you’ll like it. It grew on me, but it’s home now. I think that you’ll find that people are kind here. And if you meet the few who have bad attitudes, just tell them to go smoke a bowl and chill out,” he sat flatly, then looking up at me with that same sly glimmer, he let his full grin slip and laughed.

“Just offer them some cheetos to compliment their necessary high?” I joked. He laughed and then coughed from laughing.

We parted ways and I told him my name and told him he may see more of me as I seem to mail things often these days. “I’ll run the other way next time,” he said, winking. And then he silently waived the next person in the still very long line up to his desk as I walked away, 20 minutes after closing time.

He’s been at his job with the USPS for 30 years now, and been in this particular post office for 20 years. Never had a mail route: “Heck no. I like to be indoors with the controlled temperatures. If I’d have had a mail route, I’d have made a liar out of their ‘through sleet hail and snow’ motto real fast.” And he was not just patient, but pleasant as I came in with my lengthy request at almost closing time.

“Sorry again that you had to do this,” I said. “I promise next time it’d just be a simple “Hey Ike, can ya ship this for me,” request.”

“Nah, nah, it’s alright Jo. It was mighty fine closing out the day getting to stand around and chat with you. Have a good one.”

I may have moved to a pretty big city, but so far, I feel like the connections I’m making are these small-town type connections. Getting to know my post office employees and the workers at my local Costco. I’ve become well acquainted with my maintenance guy now — he’s been to my apartment to fix and re-fix issues with the gas in my fireplace about 5 times now over the past week.

I went to church last night and was fortunate enough to have a friend let the pastor know I’d be coming, so I got to go to dinner afterward with the pastor, his wife, and several others from the church. And I found myself telling my story, and crying in a restaurant as I am so familiar with doing now in public places when I get real and share my past pain.

And I’ve been to two family dinners — one with a cousin of mine and one with my friend Kate’s Aunt and Uncle who live here.  And I spent part of an afternoon giving a ride to Kate’s little sister who goes to college here now and doesn’t have a car.

Like I said, I may have moved to a big city, but these connections don’t feel like it. In a week I have had more honest and real interactions with people than I had in probably the first several months of my time in my previous town. Which doesn’t say as much about Denver versus Rocklin as it does about me now versus me a year ago.

I am opening up again. I’m coming alive again and being vulnerable again and it’s opening up some beautiful doors of connection. Even at the post office at closing time.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com