Driving the kids home from basketball practice tonight, I listened to their discussion about the beginning of humankind. Did people come from monkeys or from God? My daughter eventually brought up the Big Bang. That must have been the beginning, but how did the Big Bang fit into God and the monkeys?
Eventually, I suggested maybe all these ideas might be true. The kids’ answer was to ask for more snacks.
I kept thinking about that idea of how we tell stories of ourselves. And where does one story begin and another end? I’d just been with a group of teachers asking, Tell me the story of what is it you do. I listened for the hard bones, the unseen, that jointed their stories together.
Long ago, I believed stories remained in books, interesting but tepid things. Now I know story is the absolute heart of who we are, at times suffused with finesse and grace, at others – as in Baltimore – swollen with the tangles of history and present outrage.
There’s a phrase we use in our house: an ax can be both tool and weapon. Story, too, can be utilized as either, but further, I’d say, as tool, weapon, and journey.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby