Storytelling and its healing power

“Once upon a time…”

That is how this entry ought to start, because what I want to share is a story. A story of being lost and finding the way back home. But too, it is a story about telling stories and why I do, and in that sense I suppose the classical fairytale opening had better wait for next time.

For as long as there has been language, storytelling has been our closest companion. It has kept the ancients alive and the gods close, predicted the future, kept hearts full of hope, enemies inferior and long hours a little shorter. It has born love into legends, birthed more heroes and villains than have ever walked the Earth, and it continues its gentle persistant attempt even today in this digitalised age to teach us that yesterday will come again tomorrow, if we do nothing to heed the lessons of today.

The greastest mercy of storytelling though perhaps is its benevolence in accepting whatever audience is willing to listen. How often have the ears of a teddy bear given solace to one who needed to be heard? And how often have you seen a young child playing alone, yet rigorously chatting away with dolls or animals, convinced of the participation of its audience? Even to the point of giving both pet and inanimate object a voice of their own to respond to the tales shared. Have we not heard of isolated souls driven to mutter stories to themselves in the dark… on a bench in the park or in a house that no longer is as full of life, as it once was?

As bloggers we become merely one more extention of this ageless custom of telling stories to perceived audiences. More or less cohesive ramblings and observations foster questions we rhetorically answer on behalf of those we hope to be listening. The audience we tell ourselves is there. The audience we miss and need so much, we – like the child at play or the lonely old man – are willing and capable of making it up.

Yes, even when no one else will or can listen, we create an audience to validate the need to keep telling all these stories that mean so much to us. Stories that give sound to our heart of hearts and inner voice over the din of life and whatever challenges we face. And so, we become our own flawed heroes, our own redeemed villains.

The past couple of months have given rise to these thoughts in me. Death and severe illness of loved ones, disruptions of a kind that leaves normalcy in ruins and priorities in shambles. In this, I have thought of stories. Of preserving and passing on the wisdom of one generation to the next before it is too late. Of the narcissistic need at times to take center stage and leave an impression on those whose love I so desperately need. Of reiterating and asserting my own presence when life threatens to drown me and wash away any sign I was ever here. Of the wish to connect, to be heard, to touch and be touched… and of existing even in the smallest memory in someone else’s head in the hope that it may just keep me – and my stories – immortal.

The reasons and logic behind all these drives are simple enough to comprehend, and I realised that above and beyond them,… like a single red thread… lies the innate subconscious understanding that without stories, we may just go insane. We need them as much as they need us. They heal us of the injustices done to us, when we can recount our victories and triumphs. They redeem us, when we can tell of survival in the wake of loss and destruction. They release us from the confinement of loneliness. Stories heal the paralysis of fear, sin and shame by calling out the beasts into the light and showing us a way to salvation.

In this I came face to face with my own feeble self. I saw the predictability of my own mentality. The repeating circles of challenge, resignation, resistance, struggle and conquest. I saw the part storytelling takes in that process, and realised I am not all that different from neither the child talking to her dolls, or the old man muttering to himself on a park bench.

Whatever stories I tell, whether they are real or made up, they embody the best and the worst of me – and as long as I can say those things out loud, the weak in me can find solace in the tenacity of the strong. My frailty can find strength in the surge of something greater and more powerful than what holds me back. My blindness can gain sight through the eyes of others, and my muteness can speak the secrets that shame hides both from me and from the world around me.

In telling stories I heal and find my way back home.

“… and I lived happily everafter.”

The end.