Barnes: Stories that matter
Thinking back over my first 88 years, I cherish the stories that have impacted, invigorated and brought joy to my life. I invite you to reflect and remember some of yours with me.
Can you recall those times when your son, daughter or grandchild asked you to read them a story?
And you did, choosing one, perhaps, from a book that you enjoyed as a youngster. One of my favorites was “The Velveteen Rabbit”.
Then there were those special evenings when you were asked to “Tell me a story!”
Now here is a more challenging request. “From your lips,” the child is saying, “share with me one of your stories.”
What a wonderful opportunity that request presents us! Either we can make one up using our imagination or share with the youngster a tale from our past.
While tapping the resources dwelling in part of our mind can be fun and entertaining, the more personal and meaningful source for potentially exciting yarns lies within our own experiences.
For each of us has wonderful stories to tell.
We may not be born with the gift of storytelling, but we can learn. We can become skilled tellers of stories if we choose to.
It is as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “... a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others; he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story.”
Each family carries within it an elaborate collection of stories that spell out rituals, rites of passage, realities and myths, which make a particular family history unique. Some of our memories are significant, possessing important consequences. Others have far less import.
And some of the memories we’ve held onto are weird! As a boy of 9 I recall spending a weekend on a small farm in Kansas “helping” my aunt and uncle tear down their outhouse and build a new one. No youngster who had that experience could ever forget it! Then there was the annual American Royal (think Rodeo) parade when for four years our high school band marched just behind the horses and none of us took our eyes off where the kid in front of us was walking. Of course, this was when Kansas City had a downtown, which is another story altogether!
Then there was our neighborhood where there were several caves which (we knew) Jesse and Frank James hid after robbing Kansas City banks. Oh the stories we invented as we took turns being Jesse and Frank.
But there were stories of consequence as well.
One side of my family came to the U.S. from Germany. During World War II, my grandparents hid their heritage. In fact, my great grandmother who spoke only her native language chose not to leave her home during those years, fearful that discovery would jeopardize her safety.
My best friend during those long war years was Jewish. How fascinating and educational for me to be invited into his home and listen to discussions about what was happening in Germany to his relatives. Family stories seemed unbelievable at the time.
Then came an awareness of segregation in my city. I was too young to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening, but I knew it was wrong.
In later years during the 1960s, I listened to stories of racial hatred and discrimination from the Southern states. They too stretched my beliefs until I went south with my family, taught at a Negro University in Alabama in the summer of 1964, and experienced parts of the same scripts southern friends shared with me. There and then I developed my own stories.
Within a family, a person’s place is defined by the script the family is writing. My friend, John, was destined to become a lawyer because his father wanted him to enter his practice. I remember Susan, whose mother decreed that she would marry a college boy, become a mother to at least three children, and spend her life in volunteer activities. The mother wanted her own script repeated.
But my friend David was determined to write his own story. He rose above the miserable drug-related script his parents were fashioning for the family and became a success in business.
Each of us can review the narrative account of our lives, toss out the trash and hold fast to the treasures that enrich our lives. It is in our personal stories that we find meaning. And it is in sharing our stories with others that we discover who we are.
So when a youngster asks, “Would you read me a story?” consider responding with “How about if I tell you a story?”
You might begin, “Once upon a time when I was just a little older than you ...”