The universe is made of stories, not atoms. – Muriel Rukeyser
She sat beside me at the cherry table that still sits in my father’s dining room. I remember the piece of paper – a half-sheet torn from one of those flimsy-paged notebooks on which she wrote notes and from which I must have learned the habit of multiple notebooks all full of notes and lists and ideas.
A green stem emerged first from her hand, a small circle perched at the top, and then the round, looped tips of petals. A flower, then another, this one with daisy-like swags to color. This was what my mom told me to do when I was bored.
And I was bored a lot. Still am.
But I have learned this in my nearly 40 years – boredom is necessary. When I am bored, or stressed, or confused, or sad, I still color – mostly mandalas now with their abstract repetitions and dark boundaries – and as I let the soft lead shadow in lines I did not make, my mind reels into stories. And stories are what make sense to me.
If you tell me of a time when your mother forced you to eat things that made you sick, I will know – without explanation – why you do not force your child to eat anything he does not like.
If you tell me about the way that new man looked at you that day across a parking lot, about the intrigue of connection, about the way your husband cried when you told him, I will know you, find you, love you, not condemn you.
If you tell me how you would ride your bike for hours, sliding the soles right off your shoes with quick turns, I will see your joy and know why now you still crave speed and quick starts.
If you listen when I talk of baby cribs unmade and names unused, you will find me – looped, darkly-colored pieces usually kept close in.
Stories draw us closer, pull us tight, give us understanding. That’s why we have parables and fables and folklore. That’s why Brer Rabbit matters.
More and more, I see soundbites, lists of advice, proselytizing, and argument. We seem to crave answers and guidance and easy ways. But I don’t believe in those. I believe in stories. The ones who take us down suburban streets with a little boy who is an only child on his bike. The ones that walk us into communes of cracked, gorgeous women. The ones that sit us down at a table where a woman remembers her mother – almost 4 years gone – and thanks her for teaching her to be quiet in her boredom and how to draw flowers.
What is the most important story in your life? Whose stories do you most treasure knowing? What does story mean to you?
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