Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Power of Stories

After reading a series of books that, while enjoyable to begin and finish, were perhaps mainly to fill time, perhaps to avoid, again, my clutter.

But now, I have begun a book written beautifully, by an author who knows words, and who knows the human condition: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. And already I am entranced by an opening passage:

The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune; I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves.

Ahhh, to be the author of oneself. To imagine that gift and to believe in the truth of that gift.

This is such a difficult lesson to learn, even with the marvelous examples of those outstanding who accomplish their dreams and give us shining proof of this through their accomplishments. But this passage reflects the truth not of world-shattering accomplishments, but rather, the understanding and satisfaction of an old woman reflecting on her quiet, own condition, by herself, in isolation.

Blame of others is always debilitating, even when meant with the purpose of discovery. And this wall of imaginary bricks and mortar is the internal, is the personal strength.


Later on, this marvelous Mr. Barry, writes, with the thoughts of his character, a 100-year-old woman living most of her life in an asylum, for, as yet, unknown reasons:

[The doctor’s] talk had locked me in silence, I know not why. It was not opening, easy, happy talk like my father’s, after all. I wanted to listen to him, but I did not want to answer now. That strange responsibility we feel towards others when they speak, to offer them the solace of any answer. Poor humans! And anyway he had not asked a question. He was merely floating there in the room, insubstantial, a living man in the midst of life, dying imperceptibly on his feet, like all of us.

I wish always to be aware of the amazing power of unspoken communication. Those words that are not heard but can be understood. I wish to listen with my heart, not just my ears, and to take the time to appreciate the silence and what the silence might be saying.


Earlier, the author had written through the thoughts of the old woman recalling her father:

My father’s happiness. It was a precious gift in itself….it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them. Of course this is the fate of most souls…

My father’s happiness not only redeemed him, but drove him to stories, and keeps him even now alive in me, like a second more patient and more pleasing soul within my poor soul.

My daughter has asked me time and again to write down my stories. Perhaps she knows better than I the truth of this. Finally, I, too, am impelled to find, is it redemption?, is it happiness in my own life?, to share these tidbits of my life. And certainly, tidbits themselves are powerful. My father, who seldom talked about his past, told to me three or four stories about his youth, short paragraphs, and for a couple of the anecdotes, only upon my asking him question after question. Then, when he was dying, one sentence expressing his beliefs and his love for me. I recall those few short stories and that one sentence over and over, and they fill me with his presence, his voice, his goodness, and, I believe, I even can smell his scent with this recall.