I believe in the power of stories. Of old words leaping into young minds. Of worlds and universes and questions bigger than pages to hold them. I believe stories carry us to the elusive brave sometimes. Stories leave us slack jawed, wonder struck, knee deep in awe and weak kneed in love. Stories escape, inspire, and turn free the deep words in our souls we didn’t know captive there.
Stories change us.
Charlie would beckon me to his hospice room, “Wanna hear a story, Heather?”
And who am I to turn down a dying man or the yarn he could spin.
“My momma, she comes every week. Every week she loads me up with the candy I love. Those other guys, they can keep their cigarettes. Me? I gotta have my Kit-Kats and Snickers bars. And Reese Cups and M&Ms. What do I have if not these things?”
Charlie rolled up and down the wide victorian hallways of the hospice, chasing food and death in no particular order. Long bony fingers unable to propel his wheelchair, those slippered feet pushed him across the floor. The New Orleans humidity slowed down all things to a sloth’s crawl by afternoon, including Charlie’s pace. And every day post-lunch and before the dinner rush, Charlie told me stories over candy bars and popping Hubba Bubba bubble gum.
He grew up Catholic and never had much need for it ’til “the AIDS got me.” And then? Well then he couldn’t be the architect he used to, couldn’t design the houses he used to, couldn’t do anything anymore but tell the stories and eat the sugar.
And for me, that’s enough. Because Charlie’s story is all of ours. When we’re trusted with the stories of the world, the stories of our friends, our family, our daily people, we’re trusted with keeping the memories and the joy of life and the agony of death, alive.
Stories kept the Israelites in tune to God’s voice when the very universe they stood on seemed ready to swallow them whole. Stories at the temple so enamored a young Jewish guy, his parents up and forgot him as they left town. Stories grabbed a few outcasts and transformed them into fishers of men.
Because even the very one who created the world, even He knows the power of epic words and brilliant tales.
Charlie slipped away silently one night. Walking into work the next morning, I went straight for a story and morning pep talk about the world. Only to find his door closed-off, flowers holding vigil for a friend with more stories to tell. Charlie never woke up and never got to complete all the stories the world needed.
When stories erupt onto the scene, bursting forth from tombs and over dinner tables, through history and across cultures and lands and generations, they leave us on shared sacred ground. We may live and die differently, but we all share stories. We have the capacity, the audacity, the propensity to press into someone else’s story and more importantly- to listen, to hear, and to learn others’ stories.
Sometimes the tales we tell skim the surface and the stories we hear a mere iceberg of tales left untold beneath. Still, our job remains- hear the story, tell the story, live the story. For the Charlie’s dying and the momma’s quieting restless children and the husband’s grasping for hope, there’s always the story of what’s bigger and one more page deeper.
I believe in the power of stories to heal us, to bring us home. The prodigal son knew his story, where his life began and what waited for him upon return. His story always included a father watching for him, arms flung full-glory open, telling the son to come home, where the story would continue.
May our stories live vivid in the big wide world, captivating audiences, mingling with other’s chapters, diving deeper into the characters of our one life. May our tales never end but rather make way for the one after us.