This I Believe
I believe in the power of story. I believe story helps us make sense of our various worlds as we grow up and older. I was lucky to learn this early.
Since the tribulations of family life were grist for stories in my growing-up home, a vigorous spat between my parents was rounded into a tale. From it grew an expression. “Not fish again.” It became code for ‘laugh, then things will be fine,’ that symbolized shared love and trust I could depend on.
As a child in school I relished the folk tales of my native New Zealand, inadvertently embracing their values. From Tane, the Maori god of the forest, I learned about respect for nature, from the demi-god, Maui, the power of a flawed personality.
In my thirties I moved with my family to the American South. An aid in grappling with the newness and vastness of my adopted country was story. My children brought home tales about Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed from school. Along with my offspring I enjoyed the adventures of these outsized pioneers who encapsulate the cherished adventuring spirit of American life. They were a warm and welcome invitation to my immigrant self to join in the experiences and richness of my new land.
Later, as a teacher-educator, I told students in my most fervent moments that reading aloud would be the most joyful and important of their duties when they became teachers. “Just think,” I admonished, “Stories will provide the children in your class, from the least to the most, common experiences, reference points that will bind them together.” When fully atop my soap box I added, “Powerful tales provoke adoration for language. If we want children to become fully literate and enchanted with ideas we must teach them through story. And we must give them opportunity to tell their own.”
It took a class I joined in retirement called ‘Write about Your Life’ for me to realize fully the import of those words. Writing about my experiences in carefully honed prose demanded wrestling with language. This struggle, in combination with the personal nature of the topic, occasionally brought to light buried demons or losses. My latter are the premature death of a loved sister and the stealing grip dementia had on my father before he died. Writing about them in stories I then shared with the class, provided me a measure of acceptance, in itself a comfort. I was not alone in this experience.
Stories. They are a common denominator in all of human life and an awesomely powerful one at that. They are part of what binds us to ourselves and to each other. This I Believe.
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