“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” – Poet Muriel Rukeyser
“…every person, every being, every thing has a story and contains stories — and, in fact, is a story …” – The Co-Intelligence Institute
“The brain does not distinguish between a lived image and an imagined one.” – Psychology Today
I believe in the power of story. Of course I do. I’ve seen what happens to even the youngest children when I tell them a story. I’ve seen what happens when you tell four-year-olds that a hero is someone who solves a problem, and then set them loose to design a character with superpowers. They tell stories.
I remember the instant, at six years old, when the light went on in my own head, when I realized letters made words and words made stories. I think there were fireworks.
From that moment on, I became the child who, while other mothers worried about whether they read enough, mine worried about whether I read too much. In the summer, when we three kids were allowed to go to the town library and take out seven books each, I finished all twenty-one well before week one was up and had begun rereading. I daydreamed so there would be more stories. I sang constantly, aware of the story in each song. My proudest moment came when I figured out how to sing and read at the same time.
I’ve often complained that my high school education in English was a workbook with the answers in the back and that my last real English class was in eighth grade where I learned more about being a fighter pilot in World War II than I did about the English language. What I don’t say, is that while Mr. Sherwood’s life stories and those of my high school music teacher didn’t teach me what I needed to know for college, I don’t know who I’d be without those stories. Those stories drew me into life, showed me that there was so much more to life than I’d experienced, or even imagined. When I read in Psychology Today “(that) without stories … we (would) not likely have survived as a species”, I believe it. I believe stories are essential to understand the past, to make sense of the present, and to form the future.
As an example of this, check out “Life Report” on David Brooks’ Blog in the New York Times, where people over the age of 70 have written extraordinary essays evaluating their own lives.
How have stories been essential for you?