Storied Lives

Telling stories is just in my blood, I guess.

As a child, my dad’s autobiographical rambles were often met with groans at the dinner table.  Yet I remember them now.  My mother was a professional storyteller – she even got paid!  Sometimes in pie.  That’s a true story.  So I suppose ending up as an actor-turned-tour-guide is just genetics at work.  Nature and nurture.  And I cherish the role.

Y’see, I think I’ve come to a pretty good conclusion on the whole “telling stories” thing.  I believe that telling stories is what separates us from all the other animals.  Yes!  Fables, morals, fairy tales, jokes, I’d even go so far as to say interpretive dance is the one leg up we’ve got on all the other bipeds out there in the world.

You’re thinking, “She’s crazy.  There is no way a bunch of made-up rigamarole is the one important and defining characteristic of humanity.”  Well, let me tell you my story:

Stories teach us how to be human.  Fables and parables give us rules to live by.  Do as I do – or sometimes, as I don’t.  Who doesn’t remember at least one of Aesop’s gems of wisdom?  Or how about the tale of the ant and the grasshopper?  Fairy tales too:  Cinderella teaches us humility, kindness, diligence.  Hansel and Gretel warn us to steer clear of greed.  It may sound Grimm, but we learn to behave by having these warnings pounded into our heads.  Even religion:  I’m not going to go too far here, but every culture has a creation myth that shows the importance of humankind in relation to the world around them.  The stories of who we are and how we came to be were all we had to trust in for centuries.  Passed down by oral tradition and honed over telling and retelling, stories older than we are have become part of who we are.

Stories are how we relate to other humans.  When we attempt to connect, to forge new relationships, to re-establish connections, we do it through stories.  When I’m getting to know someone, I always look for a good story out of them.  If you open up and share a bit of your life, a funny anecdote or defining moment, you invite another to do the same.  We let others into our lives through our stories.  And even those who have always been there:  our family will regale us with stories of their lives growing up so we understand where they’re coming from and in turn, where we come from.  And I’ll bet you and your closest friends have a couple of “inside jokes” that you constantly remind each other of – jokes like the punchline to the story that starts “Well, I guess you kinda had to be there, but…”.  We are all players in and audience to each other’s stories.

Stories will stay behind even after we’re gone.  When people ask us, “What was so-and-so like?”  We must convey them through stories.  We remember the past in stories:  dates, places, they don’t mean anything.  What happened in our histories, both personally and as a society as a whole, are stories.  Each moment draws us into the future, each past one is a new story. 

I am proud to call myself a storyteller.  Bastion of knowledge, weaver of tales, keeper of secrets that I’ll gladly share if you come in close and lend me your ear.  Stories keep our histories, our humanity.  I’ll take that title, thanks very much.  End of story.

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