The Power of a Story

16 Jan

We all love stories.  If not, we wouldn’t watch movies or read books or follow court trials or get frustrated when the Super Bowl commercials don’t make any sense.  We wouldn’t sit around listening to each other, anticipating punchlines, figuring out what story we will share once they are done sharing theirs.

Part of being a family is being part of a story.  We can’t say that all families share genes, because some do not.  But we can say that all families share in a story.  They may be heart-wrenching ones or romantic ones or ordinary ones or horrific ones.  We may want to shield others from the true story.  We may need to shield others from the true story.  But family is a story.  And knowing that these people know your story, experienced your story, were decisive in your story, is often the best part (or, in many cases, the worst part) of being in a family.

Part of growing up is being vulnerable in our story-telling.  If you had told me, a few years ago, that I would share stories (mostly ridiculous, some silly, a few serious) with 1500 employees on a regular basis, I would have laughed.  And used the “Never” word. Because one of my principal beliefs as a child was to keep things to myself.  I don’t know why. I certainly didn’t learn this from my family.  My Dad is full of stories.  My parents are very open with just about anyone.  I’ve never met someone who actively disliked my brother. So I’m not sure why I thought that the P’s: Private, Personal, Protective were so important. But I did.

The beauty of sharing stories is that they lead to more stories.  To an enriched life where your story intersects with another one, where story-webs are created as each story builds on top of a past story,as the layers become richer and denser.  Sharing stories has led to making friends.  Has led to new opportunities.  And a lot of laughs.

And stories can be comforting. If not, Reader’s Digest wouldn’t sell so many copies.  We wouldn’t have Oscars and Golden Globes and Top Ten Lists to reward the best stories. Last winter, I had a few weeks of horrible nightmares.  The kinds where you wake up sobbing and suffocating and nothing that is real feels real. I never had nightmares as a kid so I was totally unprepared.  But I did have a good friend who slept beside his phone, in fact, sometimes slept with his lights on so he wouldn’t waste time trying to find his phone when I called.  And I’d call, usually around 1 AM, and I’d be crying so hard that I couldn’t speak and he’d try to make me laugh and then he’d pray for me and then he’d just be on the phone with me reminding me of what was real and what was not.  And then I’d calm down enough to ask for a story.  Stories were comforting. They helped me think about something other than myself and what I was going through. It didn’t matter if it was an epic story or just something simple: his first sports injury, the day the college dorm almost burned down, the time he got in trouble for watching Fight Club.

Part of living life is sharing a story.  A good life involves risk and reward, triumph and defeat, happiness and sadness.  It’s all part and parcel of being human.  Many people have bucket lists of what they want to achieve before they die.  It’s apparently all about accomplishments.

My bucket list is vague.  Kinda pathetic, really.  It only boasts one item: I want to live life in a way that is worth telling stories about.  I can’t pretend that I’m original. I just read this same sentence in a book.  My parents have both modeled lives that are story-rich.  The best stories have lots of ups and downs, risks and fears and triumphs and hardships.  Which means I’m well on the way to living a good story.  And surrounded by a story that I love being a part of.

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