Is a Jane Austen novel your cup of tea? How about an Agatha Christie mystery with a fair number of twists and turns? Perhaps an Ernst Hemingway short story gets you up in the morning? What type of story is it that allows you to connect with the storytelling and reading processes?
As we move through life, thoughts of the literary giants may tug at our heart strings, but at the end of the day, we most love the stories from people closest in our lives. People rarely walk around telling stories of the literary greats; rather they tell stories of themselves and the people close to them.
The kind of stories that we hold onto and repeat over and over include tales like: the story of how your parents met, the tale of how you fell into your career, the narrative of how you traveled the world with just your backpack, the stories of your children when they were young, and your thoughts on how you overcame the challenges life threw at you. These are the kinds of stories that stick with us.
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When you think about a beloved friend or family member, often the stories are what stand out. Storytelling is a natural part of how human beings interact with each other, teach their young, and instill a sense of belonging and connection between family and friends. We tell stories to explain ourselves, create affinity, and build groups, and we absorb stories for the same reasons. We want to feel connected with those around us.
The greatest stories in people’s lives are usually the stories of a grandparent’s journey to a new country, a parent’s struggles through personal challenges, and a friend’s determination to collect rare objects. Our stories build us up, connect us, and create us.
The Stories We Remember Are From Our Loved Ones
On July 4, 2012, my step-dad passed after a year-long battle with liver disease. A year later, I lost my childhood best friend to the same disease. Losing the two of them within such a short time period sent me reeling emotionally. My first and most lasting emotion was regret; I felt like I did not take enough time to communicate with them before they passed, even though I had seen my dad the day prior.
As I processed their losses, I was reminded of events that we shared together. These memories ran through my mind like a film reel playing nonstop.
I remembered that my dad watched golf and fishing shows on television. Typically dads watched football or hockey or soccer, but mine watched golf and fishing, and in fact the television was on all the time regardless if anyone was watching it or not. He woke up at 3am every morning and sat on the front porch drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes; I am pretty sure that my parent’s coffeepot was never turned off. He loved our pets more than anything in the world. My sister had a coffee cup made with a photo of him and the four cats sitting on the couch with the title Cat-Man-Do.
The stories of my friend similarly ran through my head. Our first concert was the Psychedelic Furs at Red Rocks in eighth grade. The next year, we saw Duran Duran open for David Bowie at Mile High Stadium. For that one, we waited all night for tickets in front of the ticket-selling office; it paid off because we got tickets in row 10. Her mom dropped off sleeping bags for us to sleep on the concrete bench in front of the shop. My love of music came from her. She taught me how to apply mascara, how to combine colors in my outfits, and how to relieve stress through writing.
A year after my dad passed, I visited my aunt who told me stories of growing up with him in northern Indiana. They took a sailboat called The Sunflower onto Lake Michigan as teenagers. He got his head stuck in a wooden dining chair and the chair had to be hacked to bits by his blind grandmother to free him. His mother went into labor with him and took a taxi to the hospital; he was very nearly born in the taxi.
As I heard these stories, I clung to them. I cherished them. I started collecting them and holding onto them. The stories became my lifeline to stay connected with my loved ones. Even though they may be gone, I could hold their stories in my hands and read them over and over. So, I began collecting their stories, and over time that process proved to be therapeutic in my grief process. Yes, they were still gone, but I had a little piece of them to hold onto—our stories.
The Storytelling and the Story Receiving
There is a positive therapeutic value to storytelling. When people share stories, they reach out across the void to keep that story alive. Every culture has a tradition of storytelling, of passing stories from one generation to the next—whether that be oral stories shared through family members or historical tales shared in textbooks, people seek to keep their stories alive.
In the process of storytelling, we unburden our minds of the realities of life and organize them in a way that we can make sense of and present to others. This process gives writers an opportunity to process the events which may have been confusing or full of conflict previously. When we write, we preserve that which is most important—the memories that make us individuals.
Though the narratives of the literary greats enlighten and inspire us, the stories from those closest to us are the ones that we hold closest to ourselves. Those are the stories that we cling tom because those are the stories that speak to us. They tell us who we are, how we connect, what we value, and how we make a difference in the world. The greatest story ever told is your own story.
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