This I Believe

Aaron - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on May 8, 2007

My belief is far from unique; in fact, I come from a lineage that extends back as far as our history itself. Homer (both the poet and the Simpson, actually), Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha, Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, and Stephen King all share my belief. And there are countless others, many not nearly as iconic. They make “water-cooler gossip” a idiom of American culture, they fuel the movie industry, they stand in line for the next Harry Potter. They, much like me, believe in the power of the story.

We tell stories to entertain. Just look at our movies. Personally, I love to be scared. If a horror movie is playing, you will find me in the audience (much to the chagrin of my partner Brady), cringing as the good, the bad, and the innocent are gruesomely, and ever more imaginatively taken out by whatever human or supernatural monster. On the other end of the spectrum, I am quite the fan of romantic comedies. When Harry Met Sally has a prominent place in our DVD collection.

Stories do not have to be fiction, of course. Brady and I have spent many nights, before nodding off to sleep, discussing our futures, spinning stories of what might be. My aunt and uncle are unrivaled storytellers, whose tales fill our family’s get-together, leaving us with laughter-sore bellies.

We use stories in other ways, too. Since my grandfather passed away fifteen years ago, stories keep his presence strong among us as we mimic his many sayings—none of which could be repeated here—remember his unwavering commitment to his family or simply raise a glass in toast to him. Brady’s grandmother is a treasure trove of stories that help to connect us to her dustbowl-era past in the Oklahoma panhandle. Through her stories, we are with her in the sod house where she was born, sitting upon the nail barrels her mother turned into chairs for the children.

Beyond this, stories also help us make sense of our lives; they give us purpose and humanity. I have a friend whose childhood was a nightmare of sexual abuse. To cope, she developed multiple personality disorder. She has spent the better part of her adult life trying to piece together the narrative of her childhood. Not only to make sense of it, but to come to terms with what happened, with her family and with herself. As her memories come back, she clings to them, tiny lifeboats in the dark, tumultuous sea of her childhood. The story she pieces together is a real and powerful weapon against a childhood that haunts her and a mental disorder that plagues her.

Stories are powerful. They entertain, providing much-needed escape. But they also link us to our past and create a reason and direction for the future. They make the present vivid and distinct. With them, we share, make connections, live, love, laugh and cry. They make us human, and it is for all this and more that I believe in them.