One of my earliest memories of a close friend was the day he told me the story of Knack the Black. We were in high school, and Knack the Black, Father Knackowitz, had been the Vice Principal of the parochial high school Chris, my friend, had been compelled to the attend the year before. It was a simple story, really. Chris wanted me to understand what life at this particular Catholic school was like, and so he told me about the time he had seen Knack catch a student shirking in the hallway between classes.
The key was Knack’s coffee. He loved his coffee, and, according to Chris, was never seen without it. In this instance the shirker made the mistake not only of shirking, but bumping into Knackowitz and spilling his beloved java. Chris was fifteen years old at the time of the telling, had never taken a writing class or had never read a book on the craft of storytelling, but painted such a compelling portrait of Knack, his coffee, his black raiment, and his rage, that forty years later I still have a vivid picture in my imagination of a man I never met.
Did Chris exaggerate? Of course. Did it matter? No. The truth was hardly the point at all. We were becoming friends, and stories would always be a part of the friendship. Not everyone is good at telling stories, but not everyone is good at listening to them either. I know I am good at the latter, and I hope I do a fair job of the first. The better we are at hearing stories, the better stories we get to hear. Just as a comedian is funnier when his audience is laughing, so too a storyteller will tell better stories when his listener is appropriately shocked, amazed, or delighted.
The reason I became such fast friends with Chris and why I am a writer and storyteller today is because stories are a vehicle through which I can express my own love of life. I have always felt that discovering a new writer is like finding a new friend. What we call friendship is a shared perception of life. So when lovers and friends, when readers and writers, when comedians and audiences get together, the applause and the laughter and hugs and the handshakes never mean merely, It’s good to see you, or, You’re so funny and entertaining—rather, they are us standing up and cheering as we discover once again that life is worth living after all.