My thanks goes out to the many, many participants from 41 states who were willing to share their stories, confirming that little moments in our lives can leave huge imprints on who we become. In my book, all of you storytellers are winners, but Nigel J. Wiggins (my puppy) and I had to choose a $1000 Grand Prize Winner from this deluge of worthy writing. Since Nigel and I were barking at each other over our decision, we also selected two $100 Runners-up. The winning story appears below.

Grand Prize Winner:
Louise Richardson
Bellingham, WA

Devin Wright
Austin, TX

Anna Huthmaker
Duluth, GA

by Louise Richardson

When I was nine, my favorite way to pass the rigmarole of a rainy afternoon was to twirl my wooden, ribbon-ended baton in the living room. My mother had warned me—“Not inside…”—but the whir of the multicolored ribbons and the feel of the smooth, sturdy wood were too much to resist. I twirled. I flang. I spun.

Then I crashed.

As my body lurched forward, the baton flew out of my hand and straight into a family photo hanging on the wall. Once the sound of broken glass had died, I held my breath for one terrible, silent moment.

My father hurried into the living room, his frowning eyes scanning over me in a heap on the rug, the shattered glass around the fallen picture, and my baton, which lay ominously nearby. Without a word, he stepped forward, snatched up the baton, and in one swift movement, snapped it in half over his knee.

His stern face wobbled before me through my tears. I screamed the most vicious things I could think at him. I hate you! You’re a terrible father! I’ll never forgive you!

He dropped the two pieces of baton and turned away. The slam of my parents’ bedroom door cut off my spiteful words. But instead of running to my own room and letting my tears overwhelm me, I crept forward until my ear was pressed against my parents’ door. I heard a muffled noise, which I took at first for coughing, but then I realized what it was.

My father was weeping. I had never heard him cry before.

Then I did slink to my room, my own sadness and rage mingling with deep shame.

I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember, my bedroom was night-dark, and my father’s gentle hand was shaking me awake. The light spilling in around the doorframe illuminated the two pieces of baton he held in his other hand. Without explaining, he led me to his workshop behind the house. He showed me how to glue the baton back together, and said that it would never break that way again.

Standing there in the single-bulbed light of the workshop, I suddenly felt much older than nine. It was the first time I realized that something I thought was unbreakable was instead fragile. But I also learned that what is broken can be mended.

Keep telling your story. Keep changing in healthy, joyous ways.