We are a storied people. Joan Didion reminds us in The White Album that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. We are constantly converting our lives into a story about our lives and bouncing that story off larger cultural tales. It is one reason I teach theology. I love teaching young people the stories in the Bible and looking for ourselves in them. We need to know our story to know where we came from, where we are and where we are going. It gives us a foundation to stand on. It connects us to our ancestors. It reminds us that we are part of a larger narrative.
My son loves books, and it is a gift to surround him with stories. When we play make believe, we are living in the stories we are creating. I get excited thinking about the stories I will share with him as he gets older, stories I loved as a child, stories that changed my mind, changed my life. He will be welcomed to share in my canon, and will undoubtedly add to mine as he creates his own.
When I am taking pictures of him or journaling about him, I am aware that I am crafting his story. As a writer, I take this job very seriously. It feels like a big responsibility. The folklore that comes out of our youth has a role in our identity formation. The stories that our ancestors tell us about ourselves take root. What moments do I capture that get at the heart of who he is? What narrative threads are presenting themselves in his story? He will get a sense of who he was and who he is and who he is becoming by ingesting my interpretation of his life. For now, before he has memory, I am helping craft his story for him.
Ken Burns has a great video on Vimeo called On Story. He talks about re-telling stories of history, how he likes complicated stories where 1 + 1 = 3. Where villains are lovable and heroes are faulty. Where the strength of someones story may challenge us to change our minds. Every story is manipulation, and he reaches for an emotional truth through that unavoidable manipulation. He says, “We tell stories to continue ourselves.” Stories remind us that it is going to be okay.
What stories are you telling?
What stories are you swimming in?
What stories do you hold as true?
What story are you living?