The piece of paper below is over 35 years old. I drew it on a grid paper when I was a teenager, probably 14 or 15 years old. This was a map of a Dungeons and Dragons world that I created and used to make up games to play with my friends. A world, created in my mind, where I would daydream adventures in.
I found this old map when my mother asked me to go through an old box I left behind when I moved. I opened it up and found so many memories from my youth. I found my electronic design kits, my comic books, and my Dungeons and Dragons stuff.
Opening that box was a superhighway trip down memory lane. In an instant I was back in my parent’s basement on Friday and Saturday evenings, rolling dice, killing monsters, and finding treasure. My friends were there too as we poured soda and ate Doritos. We laughed, argued, and lived glorious adventures.
There were 5 of us over the years, with some dropping out because they thought it wasn’t cool anymore. Then high school got serious and we started to have part-time jobs. Somewhere along the way we ‘grew up’ and just stopped playing. These maps, the books, and dice I had all were put in a box until I opened it up 35 years later.
I felt like I had found a treasure chest when I opened that box. It wasn’t gold or riches, but something far more valuable. It was my youth.
Hidden among those comic books, dice, and other stuff was the essence of a 14-year-old boy. A box of my life was packed away in some dusty corner of the basement waiting to be discovered again.
Or did those memories come with me and shape my life for years to come?
When our kids got older we started to set aside a few Fridays a month for game night. At first, the games were pretty simple, matching games, Connect 4, and easy card games. As they got older the games got more complex and fun.
Three years ago I introduced them to Settlers of Catan and found they really liked the game. I could see them formulating their strategies to win against Mom and Dad. Of course, once they figured out how to win they got bored quickly and didn’t want to play it anymore.
They lamented that they wanted to play a new game, this one was too boring. They didn’t want to play card games and much preferred their online games. What to do? I had no answer, until a fateful trip to Target one day
I was with my family at Target one evening, shopping for something that I can’t remember when we decided to browse the board game section. At the end of the shelf was the answer to the problem. I spied a black box with the letters Dungeons and Dragons Starter Kit on it.
I picked up the box and looked at it, a smile escaped across my face and my daughter asks me “What’s that?”
“A game I played for years that was so much fun,” I say.
“Let’s get it then!”
“Hmm,” I pause and flip it over. It was on sale for $19.99. and I thought why the hell not?
Later that evening my daughter rolled up an assassin character named Damian, my son a fighter, and my partner a cleric. I played the part of the Dungeon Master as I wove a tale of adventure for that night.
Everyone quickly realized that this game was very free form, there were no hard and fast rules, except for survival. I remember one exchange between my partner and a barkeep non-player character that left her flabbergasted. She didn’t expect someone to talk back to her in such a flippant manner!
After a few hours of laughs and slaying undead monsters, it was time for bed. We tucked in the kids and retired to our room. As we lay in bed and talked about the fun we had my partner blurts out, “you’re a good storyteller, that was fun.”
Somewhere between that 14-year-old boy and this 51-year-old man, I found my storytelling voice. I found my passion the moment I gave my first Toastmaster speech. I found my drive when I was a keynote speaker at a machine learning conference in Germany, and I found the depth of my soul at my father’s memorial.
I had become a storyteller of my life and my adventures over time. From all the good and bad adventures that I lived over the years, like those Dungeons and Dragons characters. I had lived cross-country travels where all we had to eat was canned soup and no can opener.
I remember the time when I froze in absolute terror, clinging to a cliff wall after losing my footing, waiting for my friend to help me up.
I remember feeling my heart swell when I saw the laughter in an old lover’s eye.
I cherish those memories and those old scribbles in those books. It wasn’t that I locked my youth or a part of myself away! No! That always came with me, that box of stuff was just a reminder that everything in life is a circle. Old becomes new, and new becomes old, and along the way, we live life.
I believe that the only way we can derive meaning from this wacky thing we call life is to speak our stories. Tell our stories to all that would listen. Speak of your grand adventures. Speak of the love that is lost, and perhaps gained again. Speak of the births, of the deaths, and of the wisdom, you gathered.
The circle remains unbroken and begins anew, so pull up a chair, pour yourself an ale, and weave a tale for all of us to enjoy.