Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The power of story

When my children were little and we went to the library, I would read to them.  (That’s what you’re supposed to do in the library, right?)  Regardless of what I would read, within two minutes I would have at least two other children sitting by me, and usually the ones who had been making the most noise.  They would be so into what I was reading- whether it was a Disney story, bugs or Pokemon- that I felt like the Pied Piper.

I took my younger children to the library yesterday for less than an hour.  Within five minutes, my son, age eight, was reading a book with a little girl about three.  They were reading a guidebook to the Justice League of America, and the little girl could not get enough.  “Why is he mad?”  “What is he doing there?”  “Why did he do that?”  “Why is he the bad guy?”  She was intensely curious and satisfying that curiosity was the most important thing.  My son has always been good with younger children, and he patiently answered her questions.  I, meanwhile, watched in awe.

I fancy myself a writer, but really I’m a storyteller.  I have a need to tell stories and, hopefully, communicate the ideas within them that other people can recognize in their own.  Original stories- meh.  We’re not getting graded on our originality; we’re being judged for our truth.  

If I want to tell a good story, I have to listen to other stories.  (As I’ve grown older, I’ve found it easier to stumble onto other people’s stories live; maybe because of that I’ve become pickier about the other modes: is this book/movie/radio piece/article touching me as deeply as what I might hear in person?)  When I find a really good story, something magical happens: I can relax and put myself in it.  I can do that because the story- even if it’s a complete fiction- is true.  I, too, become hypnotized.  

Everyone needs a good story, whether they retell it or not, because a good story tells you a little about how the world works.  Like the three year old my son read to yesterday, we want to make sense of everything- and we want to understand where in everything we fit.  We ask the story questions, and if we retell it, we do so with some of those answers in place.  The story has beginnings and endings, but it’s also a conversation.

Yesterday I watched my son take part in that.  Truly one of the proudest moments I’ll ever have as a parent.