When we step back from the fray of all responsibilities, obligations, distractions, activities, and busy-ness we discover beneath all these engagements there is something that binds our lives together and provides our lives with meaning. This binding agent is stories: family stories, fictional stories, stories of heroes and heroines, stories of saints and sinners, stories of history, stories of love or hope or hardship or comfort or strength.
Can you imagine life without "once upon a time" or "in a kingdom far, far away" or "there once was a" or "he spoke to them in parables" or “did I ever tell you about the time” or “your grandfather and I once were fishing when…” or “my first kiss was with…”?
My boys are always asking me to tell them about some event in my life and they'll even sometimes just ask me to tell them some unknown story from my life that they haven't heard before. I recall my daughter, when she was a youngling often asking me to tell her a made-up story. She was demanding too. She wouldn't settle for any stories that didn't have excellent detail and infused with deep meaning. We are a storied species, as much story as we are cells and sinew, perhaps more.
Stories are powerfully archetypal, they're emotive and sometimes disturbing; they're able to open our minds and hearts to lessons we may prefer to ignore or have difficulty accessing ourselves. They teach us things that cannot be explained any other way than in a story, things that cannot be put into an equation or formula or list or even a statement or rule.
Some stories are make-believe, which is different than untrue. They may not be factual as we might consider fact, but that does not mean they aren't true. Truth has to do with something far more powerful and significant than facts. Facts are important, but truth teaches us about the life for which we yearn, the substance that we seek, the purpose for which we live, the love for which we are willing to die.
We are shaped by the stories of our lives like clay is shaped in the hands of a potter; shaped by the stories we have heard and the ones onto which our souls cling. Sadly, we live in a culture bereft of substantive stories. We live by tweets and posts and blogs and five reasons this or that and fifteen second commercials and thirty minute comedies with problems, crisis and resolution neatly packaged in irreverence and disrespect we've been sold as humor. We live by the news stories of scandals and black and white/good and bad dichotomies without the grays that challenge us. Few of us wrestle with angels like Jacob; few of us are visited by strangers we take in and protect; few of us would know what to do if we saw a valley of dried bones rattle and begin to come to life.
The dreams we have in our sleep are our deep need for stories speaking to us in mystery and metaphor. And they affect us the way stories affect us—following us throughout the day like a shadow.
And so I am thankful, grateful for stories; for the stories I heard from my parents about when they were kids, the stories I heard of my great-grandparents and grandparents, the stories of family secrets whispered, the stories of my mother selling acorns to her neighbors when she was five, the stories of my father working on building homes with his father, the stories of my siblings, the stories of me when I was too young to remember, the stories of my father during the war, the stories of distant peoples and distant lands and distant hopes and dreams, especially the story that I'm living.
What stories define you? What family stories do you remember? What stories will you tell? What stories do you long to hear? Ask someone you barely know to tell you their story and then listen to them. And see what happens to you and to the other and to your stories.
Furthermore, realize you are a storyteller and as such you are empowered to do amazing things by shaping your story as it weaves in and out of the stories of others and the little wiggle of space and once-upon-a-time you are granted.
© 2016 Stephen Carl