The Stories that Make Us

“We listen to the truth, the memories, the bits made up. We gaze at each other. We eat warm buttered toast. We know that the sun will fall, that the children and the birds will be silent. We know that we will return to separate lives and separate deaths. We listen to the stories that for an impossible afternoon hold back the coming dark.”
David Almond,
Counting Stars

Stories are extraordinary things. They rally our emotions, entertain and transport us, even teach us. But more significantly, stories offer an understanding of ourselves and others in a way that nothing else can.

Some of the best stories are not confined to paper. When I was a kid I remember listening to stories my parents and grandparents told about their experiences growing up. Their worlds, each unique in their own way, captivated me. Stories of inner city segregation, of blinding blizzards on the farm, of coal mining, poverty, and one room school houses—they weren’t my stories, but I recognized they were a part of me in some way. As I got older I came to value these stories, not just as an understanding of the past and where I came from, but as a deciphering of myself, what I value, and what I want my life to be.

We all have a need to share our world as we experience it. We all have a story to tell. You don’t have to look hard to realize stories are everywhere. From the simple retelling of the days events to a friend, to the latest movie or newspaper headline. Even in the silence of a person’s body language, a piece of sea glass washed on shore, or a graffiti stained wall there is a hidden story.

So what is this need for stories? Why are we so driven as human beings to share a part of ourselves? For writers I think the answer is simple. Stories are a craft
something we study, work at, and admire. In our own work we watch as our words, as inadequate as they might seem, grow and mature. We desire to understand and be understood. And we recognize this beautiful struggle in the stories of others. We identify, whether the story is real or imagined, the coming together of plot and character, the attempt to capture life’s likeness on the page. And if successful, we are held in magical wonder at the power of words.

Stories are living things, an ever present reminder of the extraordinary creation process. Whether they are based on truth or made up bits, they know no boundaries. Perhaps in their timelessness we recognize a part of our own brevity, and in those “impossible afternoons” when we listen, we discover not only a break from the “coming dark”, but also our own story, continuing on, being shaped, being told.