There are advantages to getting older. If a person plays her cards right, she has more time to reflect, more time to right some wrongs, more time to meet with old friends and reminisce about the days of yore. Sometimes getting together with friends and acquaintances from the past and listening to their stories can help you better understand your own life and perhaps get a glimpse of the magic that binds us as human.
My writing group (mine in the sense that I’m a member of it) is revising and editing and formatting material for its second anthology that’s being launched next month. As we work on it, we’re reminded of the importance of “story” in our lives. We all have them, several in fact. According to Pat Conroy, the words “Tell me a story” are the most beautiful words in the English language.
Since our anthology is on my mind even when I’m asleep (seriously, I’ve awakened thinking about a member’s poem or story or our looming deadline), my ears perked up when I heard a high school classmate sharing an incident with some friends at a luncheon last week. She was talking about the homes that had been damaged in The Flood last October and remarked that she knew someone whose floors had been irreparably ruined. The flooring had come from an ancestor’s home, and the homeowner wanted them restored.
It wasn’t happening. Finally, the contractor said, “That story’s over.”
That story’s over. Time to move on. Just like thousands and thousands of others, that story is a part of a person, and stories can live on in hearts and minds and souls without physical proof. You don’t need flooring to remind you of your grandmother, not if you have memories and stories.
Our many stories, even of those who came before us, can continue to affect us, in both positive and negative ways. For example, as a teacher, I heard so many tales of woe that even now I’m haunted by some of them. Depending on the student and her (it was almost always a female) current state of readiness to change, I’d tell her that just because her family’s narrative had always been sad, destructive, or pathetic, it didn’t have to remain that way. “You can be a transitional person for your whole family,” I’d say.
But back to the luncheon. As I looked around the table at the ten other “girls,” I saw them all as they were once upon a time as little girls. I knew a little about most of their parents, siblings, addresses, quirks, piano playing ability, singing talent, athletic prowess (or lack thereof). As adults, all had eventually married, and some had divorced and remarried; two were widows. Many had grandchildren. Some had health issues.
All were walking, talking repositories of stories.
Here’s the best one. A friend who had lost her husband over fifteen years ago told of actually dying after a serious surgery. She described what she perceived as heaven although there were no pearly gates or people of flesh and blood. It was light, very light, and peaceful. She felt essences of people, including her husband who had predeceased her many years ago. He embraced her.
My friend awakened to the sound of the doctor speaking to her and began crying. When he asked her why she was weeping, she told him she didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to stay with her beloved husband. I listened to this story and thought If only those who are grieving for loved ones who have gone beyond heard and believed stories like this, it would make this vale of tears more doable and less painful.
Even if the story doesn’t have to do with death or loss, it can still teach us something. It can still help us make sense of our own experiences. And it can reinforce our human connectedness.