“Tell me a story,” is a phrase that seems to come out of my mouth, or be sent via text message quite often. Sometimes, I am just looking for something to pass the time, idle gossip about people I don’t know and will never meet. But, other times I am looking for a story with purpose, to learn something new. People consider stories relics from childhood. They remember their parents reading to them in bed with a big story book about a mythical land, a prince, a princess, a villain, a moral to the story, and a happy ending. These stories are all formulaic, following the same plot, with the same heroes and heroines, twists and ultimate happy endings. But this isn’t reality… Stories are not limited, do not come in just one form, and can be appreciated from any aspect of life.
Stories can be the voice of reason. Often, I go to my friends seeking their advice on a variety of things that may or may not go wrong in my life. In my story searching my friends provide me with anecdotes of their past experiences with similar situations- what happened, how they dealt with it, and ultimately, how they moved on. And, in their advice to me I find solace in knowing that I am not alone, that someone has struggled with the same issues and has overcome them.
Stories can forge relationships. Some of the best stories are ones from my grandmother about her own relationship with her mother. Her stories would bring me back to the 1940s and 50s growing up in the Caribbean with many siblings and a fiercely independent mother. My grandmother would chronicle what her mother would bake, how she raised her family, her eclectic groups of friends, and little sayings and life lessons that she would pass on to my grandmother – and as a result, to me. Through my grandmother’s stories, I have gotten to know this strong and powerful woman, who — although we’ve never met- I have developed a deep connection with.
And lastly, stories can help you gain perspective. Recently, I have been listening to This American Life hosted by Ira Glass. It is a weekly public radio show [and podcast] that primarily focuses on journalistic, non-fiction stories: each episode is essentially a story about anything. There are episodes that have political focus. For example, #276: “Swing Set”, swing voters are interviewed, or more troublingly emotional episodes like #560: “Abdi and the Golden Ticket” which chronicles a Somali refugee living in Kenya, who –despite being persecuted by the Kenyan police because of his refugee status – still held out hope that he would one day make it to America. And then there is episode #502: “This Call May be Recorded…To Save Your Life” which follows journalist Meron Estefanos who speaks with dozens upon dozens of refugees held hostage in the Sinai desert begging for her to help pay their ransom. Stories like #560 and #502 help me gain perspective. In listening to them I had time to reflect about the life I have and the liberties that I have been granted, but also about how much of the world I don’t even know about.
In the end, we should celebrate stories and take time to listen to more of them. Although many traditional stories are fictional, the ones that aren’t can have immense impact. Without my weekly [sometimes bi-weekly, or monthly…] chats with my grandmother, I would have never learned about the closeness of her relationship with her mother. Without talking to my friends about my own troubles, I wouldn’t have known that I am not alone. Stories lead to novel experiences and kindle curiosity.