What's in a Story? #1

By Jacob Sandler

Published: 2020-04-07

“The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.” — Thomas King

Stories are existential. Not just inseparable from the way we communicate and play out our lives, but actually the very basis of existence. In any given moment, I am. That moment is continuous, we live within it. We exist, and then the moment is gone. But not without a trace.

We can talk all we want about the importance of being present, but we leave traces everywhere we go. Sometimes like footprints in snow, other times like ink on paper. Every action, every choice, has a shadow, leaves a ghost behind. And every physical mark is also a metaphor — a measure of permanence, or impermanence — for the impact we have on other people’s lives.

We leave imprints in the form of memories, write ourselves into the communities around us, take up space, touch, play, intertwine ourselves in others’ lives in both physical and non-physical ways.

If you exist, you are writing a story. It’s not in ink or on the rat-a-tat-tat of a keyboard, but it’s playing out in the world. And like any artist or creator, the choice of what to create, what to say or do, in any given moment, is yours.

To live a meaningful life — I believe we must write stories with our lives that fulfill us. We must do so with actions, with words, and with the channels of thought that we foster.

Life is — for however long it lasts — a force of such immeasurable potential that it comes with great responsibility. Here, six billion universes collide, and we must reckon with our existence at the intersection and overlap of other people’s lives. Each of us has the capacity to hurt and to heal, to harm and to make happy. In this world, we can’t help but have an impact, all we can do is mediate and give nuance to the impact we do have.

In everything we do, we have the option to do it consciously, with thoughtfulness, respect, and gratitude. Gratitude for the freedom we hold to choose our own reactions, to craft the stories that exist in our own minds.

Out there, in the world, words get carried away from us, stories take shape about us that we are not the authors of, and over which we have no control. All we can ever do is live the way we would like to be received. Be the person we want other people to recognize us as.

The ability to comprehend this, to reflect on this, to carry the past within us and contemplate our own existence is something fundamental to our humanity. Knowledge exists in narrative form, our evolution as a species is rooted in stories.

To view life in this way, and to view my life as a story of which I am the author, is to set an intention.

Today, I pick my mug up from where it rests on the desk, dregs of coffee slide through the grounds at the bottom. A damp ring remains on the wood in front of me, a perfect circle, flicking sparks at me, sunlight glancing across the desk, catching in the liquid prisms.

When I was in college, I used to imagine being so old all I had left were my memories — what would I want them to be? I think that I am living the answer.

Behind me, my story is a winding path. It shifts each time I recollect.

Before me, the future is a field, all my hopes and dreams strung out across it, damp, and fresh, with the muddied scent of last night’s rain.


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