Just like everyone has a mother, everyone has a story. And I think probably most people have some sort of tragedy in their life that becomes their story – some sort of experience that causes a profound reaction and may change the direction of life. Sometimes the tragedy is cruel. For example, one of the many tragedies in my life is that my mother died when she was quite young. Sometimes the tragedy is subtle and not even touched by cruelty; it is the entitled child who can comfortably take, take, take but gives nothing back because everything in his life has been provided to him. These stories must engender compassion. These stories are formative. They are the stories of our humanity and they are all familiar.
There was a period in my life when storytelling emerged as the theme of all of the music, films and books that I was exposed to. As I became more involved in middle-class survival on behalf of my family and myself, concepts like the importance of the story dwindled as existential demands of life forced me to focus more pointedly on doing versus ruminating. In other words, I didn’t think about any of this for years! Now that I am middle aged and my kids are not as dependent on me, I have reached the developmental stage where nostalgia emerges in full force. Story is the repository of memory, containing history and hope. While so many things inform our psyche and form our personality, there are usually some key experiences that are truly formative. They are the experiences that cause new ways of behaving – if not at the time, in the future.
For example, when I was in sixth grade, I had no friends. I started a new school and just did not fit in. When I started the new school, I was excited. My family moved frequently when I was a child, so I learned to adapt early on to new social situations. In fact, every time we moved, I looked forward to starting school because I always made friends easily. But this was different. This was the first time in my life when I did not make any friends. I was devastated. The other girls in the class teased me so badly that it hurt. They teased me about my clothes, my ideas, even my politics. (The politics weren’t actually mine – they were my parents but sixth grade was during an election year and we had a mock election. Mine was one of two votes out of 30 for the democratic party.) I cried all the time. I locked myself in my room and read books about orphans who made their way in the world on their wits, charm and the kindness of rich adults. By seventh grade, my family again moved. I started a new school where I took a school bus to school everyday. There were some ninth grade girls who also rode the bus. For some reason, the ninth grade girls did not like me. I had no idea why. I did not hang out with them or any of their friends at school. I was not even aware that they knew who I was. Nevertheless, everyday on the bus these girls teased mercilessly by calling me bad names, accusing me of saying or doing things I never did, mocking me. It was horrible! I could not understand why they picked on me. I fought back with them. I challenged their reasons for picking on me, and even slung a few nasty insults myself. After being bullied in sixth grade, I had no intention of being a passive victim. Fighting back was a new skill, one that developed out of the tragedy of my cruddy sixth grade experience. It helped to confront these nasty girls; I never had the same feeling of victimization that I had from my sixth grade experience. (I am so grateful to say that since sixth grade, I am blessed in that I have always had good friends around me. More stories. . .)
We go to bed with stories. We teach through stories. We connect through stories. We find resolution through stories. We touch the divine through stories. We kiss the sublime through stories. We waste time through stories. We survive through stories.