I believe in the power of stories, of personal narrative, of the telling of tales of one’s own journey and of hearing the experiences of others.
In my family of origin, we were brought up to be patient and attentive to each others’ stories, NO MATTER WHAT, to listen to each other’s accounts of encounters with life, as though it was the first time we had ever heard them. Settling back in our chairs around the table after a holiday dinner, our bodies numb from our intake of fat, sugar or perhaps just sheer quantity, the talk begins.
There are nods, gasps, and laughs at the appropriate times, as each story is shared for maybe the first time, maybe the fiftieth. There is an unspoken, yet agreed upon effort not to violate or abuse this privilege. (I try to keep a mental count of how many times I have actually shared my stories of travel abroad or clever things my children have said…yet sometimes the need to tell them again, to elaborate and connect with another’s story in a new and different way wins out.)
I observe that the group generally manages to stifle the instinct that does tempt us on occasion to roll our eyes, interrupt, or jump in and finish another’s story quickly, so that our topic, simmering on the edge of our itchy tongues can take center stage.
This is not a perfect process however. Occasionally out of my instinct to survive a gathering with both sanity and good humor, I find myself rising from the circle to make another pot of coffee or to reassure myself that the toilet truly is not “running”; most times I am content to sit and let the stories evolve and ripen in their own time, in this safe arena of tolerance and understanding.
I believe that whether or not we know the ending, it’s the telling that’s important, that holds the power of healing, growth and connection.
Some of us have traveled far, others have faced great tragedy and loss; we all share a sense of humor, and the inflections, nuances and climaxes in a funny story change each time in subtle ways. I view it as part of our art, part of our family glue.
I see some of us working out the knots and gnarled pathways of our life’s struggle this way; others of us are reaching out for support and validation; a shared laugh or a slow knowing nod of shared disapproval at the ways of the world.
I believe that much of my love of words and plot come from this family tradition. I believe that the rhythm of my speech, the rise and fall of my words, the ability to time my anticipatory pauses just right… come from this family tradition.
Ultimately, I believe that I am stronger because there is a circle to which I belong, one which always welcomes my stories, and one in which I can return the favor.
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