What's in a Story? #3

By Hillary Watson

Published: 2020-04-21

I’ve been thinking about the ways that I tell stories.
I can string together words on paper or voice them aloud.
You may follow them or you may not.

I think them up all day long.
So many of them never make it into the external world but they live,
If only for a moment.

I build my own stories off of the ones you share with me.
Your words mean something to you that they will never mean to me,
and they mean something to me that they had never meant to you.

A story is a gift that if I give away, is no longer mine and no longer exists in the way I made it.
It grows, changes, evolves.
Your eardrums are the portal into another world that will forever be foreign to me.

Telling a story is a practice in surrender, in trust, in hope.
A surrender to the loss of control.
Thoughts and words have a way of flowing that gives me little chance of staunching.
A trust that you know me and choose to see integrity.
A hope that my language is translated into a narrative that embodies the values that I feel make me a good person.
I tell stories so that you may see me and all the sense I try to mash together of the complexities of human experience.

I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes a story.
Is it still a story if I don’t understand?
Can I tell a story if I don’t have a voice? If I don’t live? If I don’t breathe?

The striated earth speaks to layered years.
Soil blanketing times long past as if a cover to a history book.

I find stories in the way the breeze brushes my face, lifts my hair, calms me, chills me.
I find stories in the changing seasons.

The story begins with a cooler morning that reminds me that I’ve had to don a sweater with the setting sun for a week now.
The story pulls me into my childhood as I begin to notice the changing colours of the leaves.
The mixed emotions as I lost my summer freedom,
grudgingly entered the new school year
and excitedly planned my Halloween costume.
I know where the story goes.
It becomes richer, denser, more certain, every year it’s lived.

There’s a story in tradition.
In ritual.

Every year, my mother hosts a Poor Man’s Supper on the Christian holiday of Good Friday.
The story was birthed in religion.
In memorial of grief, divinity, and sacrifice.
What unfolds is a family’s journey away from hallowed observance and into secular ceremony.
We no longer practice the religion that gave this supper reason,
but reason exists all the same.
It’s a story that was created out of parables but will last as long as the people choose to gather and call it by the same name.

I’ve been thinking about the timelessness of stories.
Generation after generation choosing to retell it,
but with changing words in a changing world.

Is a story defined by the words it uses or the proper prose and grammar?
Is a story defined by the person who tells it or the feelings that are evoked?
Is it a good story because it made your heart race, your eyes tear,
or make you palpably aware of the tiny hairs growing on the back of your neck?

Did the message ring that much more true when it was told by the woman with the clear voice and the unwavering eye contact?
Is the smearing of the paint a work of art when defined by a frame?

I’ve been thinking about the ways we tell stories.
Perhaps a story is a question and we write the pages when we search for the answer.


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