Stories leave a trail a hop-length apart for us

“Perhaps the real reason that we tell stories again and again—and endlessly praise our greatest storytellers—is because humans want to be a part of a shared history.”

The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling,” The Atlantic

I talked with a guy at a nursing home last week, holding the hand of his “bride,” he called her, of 54 years. She sat next to him mutely. I thought then that, yes, he knows Be still. We talked about children, marriage, and jobs, and not in a lengthy way, but each point held a story for him, and I soaked them up like a sponge in a puddle of milk. As we looked at my kids watching some exotic finches in a large glass cage, he smiled. “Everybody loves the birds,” he said, not knowing how true that was for this woman. I do love the birds. I do.

I’m becoming an internal curator of anecdotes of our “shared histories”; a collector of stories, a hoarder of the “Oh! Me too”s. This moment was another I tucked in my pocket and took home with us.

Part of my story-obsession is the natural outcropping of being two years from Wisconsin, two years in Michigan. I feel loved almost equally from both sides of the great lake between us, and Ohio besides. As relationships deepen here and there, lives are shared with ours and the overlap creates stories where last year there was … well, just birds and “The Long Loneliness,” Dorothy Day.

But part of my new curating fascination is the dual recognition that my appetite for stories grows with more stories and writing — and that schooling feeds the beast, too. In August, I wondered if I’d get burned out on doing school; I haven’t. I wondered if it’d really be so life-giving as I’d hoped; it has been. I wondered what we’d struggle with; it’s math, her, and the cold, me. Those have been pleasant expectations — but the unexpected part, one-third of the way through the year, is what it’s doing to me.

For my daughter: Her letters stay between the solid and dotted lines now, they didn’t 11 weeks ago. She’s narrated about the Romans coming to the white cliffs of Albion; she’s acted out a martyr’s story, and Moses in the basket, and Gideon outside the camp. She can add to 20, do the doubles thing, and recite a Lewis Carroll poem and a handful of verses. “Why aren’t there any good climbing trees in the woods?” she asked. We talked about that. This isn’t a list to boast. I mention these only to illustrate the education is indeed first hers, and theirs; it’s why we’re here.

But what it’s doing to me is — well, expanding my understanding of the philosophy, and in asking “Well, what of it? What will become of it?” I’m realizing what’s becoming of it is we are becoming, slowly, more reverent toward the opportunity for stories around us; family fables, strangers’ stories, church stories, and book stories.

They’re each like rocks in a stream we’re following toward — I don’t know. But it’s very peaceful, how God lines them up a hop-length apart, to move us toward, or forward, or just — to the next one.

We were on the swings today and I leaned back and watched the wispy clouds in the sky above the barren trees, and I felt so full. So full. That’s a Be still kind of gift.

Hey: I locked myself into my bedroom last night while screams of either delight or near-death made a crescendo and fell as they ran up and down the hallway. I escape, too. I have to, or they’ll wreck me, these kids. We probably look a lot like any family, only louder, with three girls. As I perched on the bed and ate a slice of smuggled-in pumpkin pie, I wondered what the media would say about me as a parent if my children screamed each other to death out there while I ate pie. Then I chewed extra slowly anyway.

It’s not all rainbows and “Tales From Shakespeare” over here.

But this room for the relationships, the room for the nursing home visits, cooking a meal for someone, lingering over tea at the table, the friendships, shared meals, climbing trees in the afternoon; and the books, the train set on the living room floor, the woods — it’s all part of life, and education. Theirs and mine.

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