What's in a Story? #4

By Renee Coughlin

Published: 2020-04-28

I am not alone in the ideas I share today. It is not just my words that dance across this page and I am not solely responsible for the meaning that is made here. The credit belongs to many things, both human and beyond. Every person, every smell, every sight, laugh, and tear that has touched me is part of this story. And yet, I choose which parts get to show up for you to read. I am selective about which words become tangible and which ones remain hidden, unseen.

It was taught to me recently that one of the most profound things we can start to do for the betterment of our communities is to acknowledge the influence that we move with. To take time to share gratitude for all that has infiltrated our minds. To humbly cradle the rich bodies of knowledge that contribute to who we become and compose the stories we tell.

I come to you with this written work shaped by the context of my life as a female living in Southwestern Ontario. I am a white woman born to Irish, German, and English ancestry. A third-generation settler who grew up in the country we now call Canada around many people who looked and lived like me. I spend most of my time trying to re-learn the world I’ve come to know in a particular way. I am grateful for my many teachers, human and more than human, that continue to gently nudge me in this learning journey.

It matters that we know which stories are telling our stories. It matters that we honor the memory of the ones that go untold. And so the burden of responsibility lies with each of us every time we open our mouths or put pen to paper. Which tales do we choose to tell? Which do we leave cast aside with the rest of our intangible memories and invisible facts? What if we nurtured a way of consuming stories that sought out the other? What if we relentlessly acknowledged that we are always making a choice to share one narrative at the expense of another? What would happen to truth? Would it be seen merely as a matter of perspective and choice? Maybe that is all it’s ever been.

Together, our words build a world. A world that benefits particular ways of being over others, defends certain species over others, and upholds an unreliable narrative of truth, right and wrong. This narrative forgets to open our hearts and minds to the complexity that underlies it all.

Look around you, drink it in. It is possible that everything you see and feel in this moment was once just a story. All that we are and all that we have, just a story in someone’s mind. And so I find it hard to say things like, just a story, because it is never just a story. It is life-giving and life-taking. It makes whole or it tears apart. It is who we are and who we will ever have a chance to be. Our greatest power and our greatest weakness.

I am not alone in the ideas I share today. It is for us, the collective. All the dreamers, makers, creators, and doers. What stories will we keep telling? Whose voices will we allow to permeate the walls of each anecdote? When do our words destroy worlds? Which worlds are worthy of destroying? Which stories are better left out of our mouths or off the pages of our notebooks? How will you decide? Who will help you decide? Which stories will you turn to?


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