The clock has ticked more than a couple of times since my high school days, and in my 40s, the past seems both distant and uncannily close. Each wrinkle—earned through years of laughter, worry, and sun-drenched vacations—is a testament to the chapters of my life. But amidst the whirlwind of raising teenagers, battling that stubborn laundry mountain, and attending more parent-teacher meetings than I care to remember—there’s a voice from the past that rings clear and true: Mr. Schmidt’s.

Mr. Schmidt wasn’t your run-of-the-mill high school teacher. Swathed in his plaid attire and perpetually lost in a maze of profound thoughts, he had this peculiar way of intertwining life’s biggest mysteries with its minutiae.

“All stories are true…and some of them actually happened,” he’d declare in the middle of a lesson, as if sharing the very secrets of the universe. To our teenage ears, it was another hilarious Schmidt-ism, a term I coined for his quirky proclamations. Yet, that line—more than any pop quiz or algebra formula—stuck.

Throughout history—parables, myths, and legends have stood side by side with documented events and scientific discoveries. Not as a challenge to empirical facts, but as a testament to another kind of truth. These stories—told around campfires or whispered beside a child’s bed—weren’t crafted to share facts. Instead, they exist to illuminate the deeper, often intangible facets of our existence, casting light on the human spirit and our shared journey through life.

Just as our ancestors had their tales, each one of us carries a collection of personal stories—about friendships, family, and those pivotal moments of self-discovery. When we revisit these memories, the ambiance of a summer day might become a bit more radiant or a whispered secret even more mysterious with each retelling. And that’s perfectly fine.

There are stories I cherish, ones I share during family reunions or quiet nights at home. They chronicle adventures with childhood friends, unexpected detours on family vacations, and those introspective moments that caught me off guard. But when I recount them, it’s less about the exact sequence of events and more about the emotions they evoked. The joy, the surprise, the heartaches, and the lessons learned.

What Mr. Schmidt understood deeply was that our lives aren’t just a series of events, but a continuous stream of experiences and emotions. In our narratives, it’s not just about the ‘what,’ but the ‘how’ and ‘why.’ It’s not solely about the circumstances we found ourselves in but the essence we extracted from them. Each story, no matter how its details evolve over time, captures a piece of this emotional and transformative truth.

Now, as I navigate the complexities of parenting—watching my own children weave stories, stretching the truth here and there for dramatic effect—I am reminded of the heart of what Mr. Schmidt was saying. It’s not always about factual accuracy. The realness of a story lies in the emotions it evokes, the truth it stirs, and the memories it cements.

The spaghetti stains of youth have long faded, but the essence remains. In an age where facts are at our fingertips and truth is often negotiable, it’s the stories—the myths, the legends, the Schmidt-isms—that lend depth to our existence. It’s in the tales we tell, the memories we cherish, and the lessons we pass on.

In the quiet moments—when the kids are asleep and the house is hushed—I find myself thinking of Mr. Schmidt. Grateful for the wisdom he imparted, the stories he shared, and the gentle reminder that life—in all its chaotic beauty—is a story worth telling.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.