“How did you ever find Skaneateles, New York?” a friend asked when I said I was heading there for a book event. “It’s a lovely hidden town,” she explained, “but when you said you were headed to New York, I hoped you meant the Big Apple.”
Truth is I did not know much about Skaneateles. I looked it up and found it was in upstate New York and about 62 miles from Rochester and 140 miles from Buffalo. The most recent population count was 7,209. Make that 7,211. My friend, Sarah Goode, and her husband Kevin had visited there a few years back and decided to stay. Permanently. She and the local librarians invited me to come and talk about my book, and the work I love doing — sharing stories and the power of our personal writing. I went.
The first day Sarah and I hiked over to Skaneateles Lake, a charming “Finger Lake.” On our hike we passed dozens of small little shops sporting local art, women’s apparel, cooking goods, and locally made treats. Small and unique shops such as the Chesnut Cottage and the Rhubarb Kitchen Shop. At each stop someone said “hi” to Sarah, and often someone would wave at me, too, and say, “You must be the author!” Let me make this clear, I am not famous. Not even remotely. But this gracious town had plastered posters of my talk in the shop windows. It was heart-warming how they reached out to me!
We made our first stop at the community hub. It is the Skaneateles Library where librarians extraordinaire, Nickie Marquis and Deanna King, welcomed me as any writer dreams of being welcomed — they had promoted me, set up press interviews, and accommodated my talk with the perfect space and the latest technology.
That evening I opened my talk with a bit of my story. A tale of teaching story and writing to students, cancer patients, veterans, and writers. As is often the case, the crowd was eclectic in age and experience, but there was one common denominator. The room exuded an energy. A positive energy that could only come from a place where people felt a part of something wonderful. A caring community.
I shared stories of a Marine who wrote his way past his PTSD from combat and a stage-four breast cancer patient with a newborn who wrote a blog to help her find her find her path through cancer. I closed with poems by a woman who has overcome the trauma of rape by creating “you can overcome” poems. The audience laughed and even teared-up with me. They understood our need to break our silence, find our words, and use them to heal and transform our lives.
Afterwards, the locals asked wonderful questions. “How do I begin to write my story?” “How do I write about my trauma and not hurt others?” A local lawyer in purple tennis shoes stood in a long line to greet me, “I just wanted to say thank you for coming here. I had forgotten the power of writing, and I know I must tell my story!” The next night, a tall stately woman with a cream-colored straw hat, stopped me at the library’s guitar concert to whisper. “Thank you. I want you to know I am inspired by your work. Last night I pulled out my journal for the first time in a long time. I had forgotten how we need to find and share our stories.”
And I knew it was true. It was important to come here. The community I found was a treasure I will hold in my heart for a long time. It will make me work harder to build and find a greater sense of community in my own life. Small towns can be gems. Community — wherever we find it — matters even more.