(Above) The “pink Christmas tree” started as a friendly prank between two Shepherdstown neighbors in 2013. The original tree and the expanding tradition of its roving from house to house in the neighborhood every few days came to an end a few years ago. In 2020, the neighborhood is ressurecting the tradition and offering some cheer to the community.
When I interviewed professional storyteller Adam Booth for the Speak Stories article in this month’s issue, one of the topics we touched on was the role of storytelling in the community and his experiences traveling the country to speak. He noted how during his visits, people often seek him out asking, “do you have time to hear a story”? He described it being as if a gate were opened to him — the many small stories people tell reveal not only a pride in their communities but also illustrate surprising diversity in many communities.
The story of the Stubblefield Institute at Shepherd University is still being crafted, but it shares a similar theme — of focusing on the common elements of our conversations to build communities together rather than apart. As Booth pointed out to me, the community building function of a story is as much in the listening as it is in the speaking. Even before the pandemic-imposed isolations, it’s clear that many of our conversations have become disengaged from this essential dynamic. It will be interesting to see what sparks of connection arise from the institute’s efforts.
In our own community, we see signs of optimism as individuals push back against the current struggles and persevere. The pink tree that has reappeared in Shepherdstown (above) is a whimsical example of spontaneous community engagement and undoubtedly will be the subject of a story passed along to future generations.By Steve Pearson