The Resilience of Stories

SunriseA lovely, snow-covered morning. The woods are lovely and dark, and highlighted by the intense white of newly fallen snow; not much snow mind you, just enough to coat the trees. Ours is a remnant forest so it is not deep; there are just enough trees to support hermit thrushes. Under the snow, a layer of ice. At the end of our drive, a pile of slush the plow left last evening; I should go deal with it, although that is easier said than done.

The mailbox at the office is frozen shut as a result of the freezing rain and high winds we had at the beginning of the storm. I was unable yesterday to chisel the door open. Today may be warm enough to melt that thick layer of  ice and give me access.

We humans are inveterate story tellers. We live by the narratives we make and share.

I’ve been reading Jeanette Winterson, who, like me, survived a brutal childhood by reading books. She read widely, finding print based allies, fictional and “real,” who aided her in creating alternatives to her mother’s fierce narcissism and fear. Reading Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal was, for me, an insightful return to life with my own mother, reminding me that my life was filled with both physical and emotional abuse, and mom’s soul deadening refusal to allow the wider word to enter our home.

Fortunately, I learned to read early and made friends with our local librarians. I spent innumerable hours cloistered in our small town library, surrounded by books, many of which came home with me at the end of the day. Unlike Jeanette’s mom, mine actually encouraged me to read, although she seldom approved of my reading choices, usually steadfastly refusing to discuss the ideas I uncovered in my bookish journeys.

There is, I think, a tendency among those who are afraid of the complexity of human experience to hate ideas that might challenge their own. These folk do whatever they can to prohibit access to knowledge and ideas, and to silence dissent.How easily we forget that the U.S. was largely settled by the Puritans who rigidly resisted any notion of complexity. In England, their fellows beheaded the king for disagreeing with them, only to suffer a similar fate a few years later, much to the relief of a great many loyalists and others. Sadly, they destroyed much that was good and beautiful in their brief reign.

Here in the U.S. their influence remains strong. Their distrust of the Other, disdain for the commons, and prejudice against libraries, science, nature, and the arts continues to drive policy. Underlying all that is a fundamental disdain for stories, or rather, for stories that speak to a wider life for the soul.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to persons living under any totalizing regime is to find ways to share stories that go against the dominant ideology. Viclav Havel wrote about the joy and terror of circulating written texts underground. Native people and African slaves, when forbidden to tell their stories, passed on crucial narratives in coded form, often late at night in secluded places. All knew that stories are food.

Stories are powerful, and therefore are feared by those who seek power. As odd, and perhaps, insufficient, as it seems, sharing deep stories remains a profoundly transformative means of building community and resisting oppression and erasure. Stories, real ones as opposed to propaganda, take on lives of their own, tunnel deep underground, and erode the foundations of evil.

Those who lie and threaten will do their best to suppress the deep stories of the people, we can depend on it. We know, however, that suppression doesn’t really work, that healing stories are more powerful that evil. Information is important as we make decisions in our lives, but guiding narratives are crucial. It is the immediacy of healing stories that helps us think seven generations or more into the future so we protect those who are vulnerable now, and those we are dreaming into future being.




18 thoughts on “The Resilience of Stories

  1. Thanks for telling your story. Those who are best at telling personal stories are those who made meaning from their experiences and are able to think about the experiences in a way that is transformative and informs choices throughout our life-cycle. You do that so well.

  2. Beautifully said. I feel better about waking up at 5:30 am in the dark to get Steve off to his job driving the inter-library delivery truck through the snow! Somewhere nearby, there’s a kid waiting to read a new story.

  3. Wonderful post Michael! Stories are so important to cut the noise of everyday news. To let People crave stories with truth, wisdom and beauty.

  4. Profound insights about the power of stories, Michael. Stories and the metaphors they convey about the meaning of life can bring people together across cultures and generations. Yet we need to mindful of the power storytellers have to unite or divide, to breathe new possibilities into being or extinguish all hope.

  5. how wonderful to remind
    of the countless words
    and stories, real & imagined,
    of hope and inspiration
    written by those who
    lived during dark & light
    times of humanity, Michael 🙂

  6. As a librarian, I’m happy to read about the role of libraries in your life Michael 🙂 Our first tenet as librarians is to provide access to information to all, uncensored and reading about stories different to your own is one of the best ways to create empathy and understanding.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, Michael. For many years, I have thought, that the people, who deny others any kind of wisdom and knowledge, may be so scared, that anyone will become more intelligent than themselves. They must feel themselves very threatened. Stories are necessary to keep life alive and a great way to learn from the past, also not to repeat others mistakes.

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