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This I Believe: I Believe in Storytelling

Sophia Beem - Springfield High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Sophia Beem - Springfield High School

The beast lurches through the undergrowth of the forest, breathing labored, growling. It emerges from the dark to face us: me and my brother. Brandishing plastic swords, in mismatched bits of old Halloween costumes, we strike our best heroic pose and call out in challenge. The beast - actually our neighbor - answers with a roar and charges… This was me at age ten, making iMovies, learning to believe in the power of storytelling.

Skip ahead six years to the turmoil and uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak. During the isolation of quarantine, storytelling became my refuge. Reading and writing were the constant when everything else shut down. I wrote in my journal daily, describing my observations, picking apart my feelings and fears. I found that writing about my own stories was vital and therapeutic.

In one journal entry, I reflected on a near-death experience from a white-water rafting trip. How quickly the situation changed and how being trapped in a current underwater at the mercy of the river made me more determined to connect with nature. I wrote a poem for my friend about her struggles with depression and self-harm to try to show empathy for her situation. Writing an elegy about my great grandmother allowed me to honor her and describe a few of the small moments I miss the most.

Sometimes my brother and I would create alternative endings to some of our favorite comics and movies, blending characters and scenes. We did crazy mash-ups that didn't make much sense, but they did make us laugh. We worked on story ideas, wrote character sketches, and watched some of our old iMovies.

As restrictions lifted and activities resumed, I found myself shifting focus to the observational aspects of storytelling. Each day could bring a different lens depending on the pursuit. I might experience the quick, hot anger that follows an elbow to the back during a soccer game. A little later, it could be the slow build of frustration when the next math concept isn’t clicking. I could write about the high-pulse-rate joy of scoring a goal, the exhilaration of a tight jazz band set, or the weary satisfaction of finishing a volunteer project with friends. Although the tempo of activities has increased, I have continued my daily writing and journaling. Sometimes the entries are fragmented and disjointed, the poems are rushed, and the story concepts incomplete. But sometimes they seem to work, and they help me keep things in perspective.

I believe in the power of stories to help us empathize and relate to the struggles and viewpoints of others, to speak for the outsider or the downtrodden. I believe storytelling can help us face uncertainty with humor and courage. And someday soon I hope that little kid who was making iMovies in the back yard can tell the kinds of stories that connect and resonate. Because the power of storytelling can bring us together: this I believe.

This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, State Journal-Register, BLH Computers, KEB, Marine Bank, and Roni Mohan of RE/MAX Professionals Springfield.

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