Please, don’t stop…

Stories seduce, and I, I fall freely into their embrace. To revel and despair as they bid me, to endure and delight at their mercy. And while they surge on a hidden course too compelling not to explore, there is no obstacle insurmountable. No danger or evil too perilous to face. No broken heart beyond repair. Is it any wonder I go willingly? Or that I tremble as I do?

As lives unfold and faces grow familiar, each dutifully brings voice to all that is good and bad within the world. Mine as well as theirs. Stories told within stories birth the desperate wish for glory and redemption, for restoration to safety and happiness, and I remain their breathless captive. Rage, love and anguish felt on their behalf make me persevere. Page after page, until they are triumphant. Vindication! It was right to believe. Right to hold out hope. With them I am freed. All is right once more, and better than it ever was before. Predictable, and yet… infinitely more complex and surprising than promised at first.

Somehow, mingled with this beautifully sweet exultance, there is a deep resentful sorrow, acrid with the pang of parting. It is, after all, their lives I have lived. Their tears I have shed. Their blood I have spilled, and I do not wish to leave them now that finally they are home. But stories hold no care for what becomes of their audience after the final words are wrought. We do not belong there and are not intended to linger, but rather to move on to the next and be spellbound anew. Such is the nature of stories, and perhaps for most this is enough. More than enough. But for me it is a reluctant extraction back to a reality that seems lackluster in comparison. I do not want other stories. I want more of this one. Please?

Nevertheless, beloved voices must needs eventually fade into an unwritten everafter into which I cannot follow. They remain, together, living perpetually in the grace of their final glory, while I, a mere mortal from a far more ephemeral world, must part. After everything we have been through together, there is no more. And the loss is mine, and mine alone.That is perhaps the hardest part, that sudden sense of loneliness while memories and emotions linger still. Like dying embers of a once life-giving fire, still kindling enough warmth to whispering alluringly to me. That impending void is a chasm of grief that rivals any peril lived with the story itself. Worse, its only ending is Time’s slow numbing of memory and the awkward awareness that it will happen whether I wish it or not.

Still, relentlessly, I covet the seduction nonetheless. There is, I think, a madness, as well as a blessing, shrouded within the gift of imagination. After all, how else can one defend in sound mind the pursuit of an inevitable and heartbreaking end? 

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Please, don’t stop…

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.

Storytelling and its healing power

The lessons of an olive tree

olivetreeIn Greek myth the olive tree is said to be an immortalized lovers’ embrace. If you look at the stem of such a tree you might see how it is entwined with with itself, as if it were more than one and less than two.

It seems a good thing to keep in mind. The whole being more than one thing. The notion that whatever the relation none of us can be like islands. We are not closed self-sufficient eco-systems as much as rings in the water, echoing and mirroring one another. And even if it takes a trip back to the world views of the ancient Greeks… I think maybe sometimes it is good to just sit quietly and listen to what a tree can teach.

The myth of the olive tree

Legend has it that Zeus grew discontent with the doings and dealings of man. He found them selfish, ungrateful and arrogant to such an extent that he wondered whether perhaps it would be better to kill them all and start again. Moved to give mankind one last chance to redeem itself, Zeus disguised himself and visited Earth as a weary traveller. At each house he came to, he asked for a little food and shelter, thinking that if he could find just one home that would welcome him, there was hope still for mankind. But every time he knocked on a door, Zeus was bitterly disappointed to see it closed again to turn him away. None offered him even the smallest reprieve.

Disheartened and angry Zeus was near to giving up when he came upon a small and very rudimentary dwelling. A home of people who did not have much at all. Still, Zeus decided to try one final time, and when he did, he found the welcome he had sought. A middle-aged couple bid him inside, shared what little food they had and offered him a place equal to their own to sleep, and to his surprise Zeus saw that they did so with genuine kindness and concern.

When morning came Zeus threw off his disguise and told the couple of the thoughts that had weighed so heavily upon him. Thoughts that they had eased in sharing what little they had with a strange who could offer them nothing in return. For this he wanted to reward them. But neither the man nor the woman wished for any rewards. Zeus pressed them, eager to repay his debt of gratitude to them, and finally the man said that there was only one thing he truly wished for.

“You see,” he told Zeus “I have spent my life loving my wife, and I cannot imagine living for a single day without her. It is my wish that when it is our time to go, that we die together”. Surprised, Zeus asked the woman whether this was her wish too, and with a smile she told him it was.

“So be it!”, said Zeus. And he decreed that upon the day when one of them was ready to die that they should call upon him. Then he would come and grant them their wish. And with that he was gone.

Many years passed and when the time finally came, the man , now old and wrinkled, full of years yet with the love for his wife as young and vibrant as ever, called upon Zeus as had been agreed upon. Zeus heard the call and came. He saw the couple standing before him, holding hands, and asked if they were ready. Both smiled and nodded, and with that Zeus asked them to embrace. As they did he transformed them right where they stood into the shape of an olive tree that they might spend forever, lovingly embraced in death as they had been in life.

The lessons of an olive tree