Personal experience is important when writing, but is it everything?
By David Stone
Sixteen years ago when I was thirty-two, I started teaching English at Loma Linda Academy.
Recently married and still without children, I was taken aback during a parent-teacher conference when a mother shook her head at me in response to my comments about her child’s hyper behavior in my classroom.
She said, “You don’t have children, Mr. Stone. Do you?”
“No,” I replied. Perplexed by her comment, “Why?”
“It’s obvious.” She said. “It’s obvious.”
As I had recently won an award for my teaching, her comments sadly didn’t hold much merit for me.
Poet David Stone teaches English at Loma Linda Academy.
Years later, when I sat on the other side of the table at a parent-teacher conference for my son and his impulsive behavior, I understood the empathy I had lacked years before. I hadn’t had the experience to feed my imagination. I had lacked life experience.
Knowing the limits of my experience and imagination drives me to read other people’s stories.
Kamila Shamsie’s short story “Our Dead, Your Dead” tells the story of a young intern named Ayla at the Karachi, Pakistan, offices of StreetSmart magazine as staffers are arguing over how to cover the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 bombings in the United States. Ayla is particularly conflicted by the argument because she had not only studied in the United States at the time, but had been hired for a job at the Twin Towers in New York just weeks before they were destroyed.
Shamsie’s story explores the connections among experience, understanding, empathy, and the right to judge. Her carefully crafted story allows readers an opportunity to reconsider the effects of terrorism and the obstacles to our ability to understand another culture’s perspective.
Midway through the story, Ayla remembers how one of her American university friends says, “ I hope your government has learnt […]