“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
― Joan Didion
As a public health nurse, I live in a world of quantitative data and quantifiable results. Two times a year we must demonstrate to funding sources that our preventive health program works. We need to show that the money we spend translates into more women getting mammograms and pap tests, to more women and men getting colonoscopies. If the numbers don’t show it, it isn’t working.
But I’m a story-teller. I’m a person of stories living in a world of numbers. A person where time is of no importance while I listen or watch a story being told. I am a story-teller and lover of stories that works in a world that gives money to the efficient, that weighs and measures importance based on data driven by numbers.
Numbers mean little to me. Tell me a thousand have died and I will feel sad; tell me the story of one of those who died, tell me about the mother that hugged her child goodbye that morning only to find out by noon that she would never feel the warmth of that child’s body again and I will weep. Tell me the story of one little boy, whose body washed up on the shore of the sea, and I will act. The story helps me make sense of the numbers; the story makes the numbers real.
Stories move the heart to act. Stories cut across cultural divides. Stories connect us to each other. Stories help us to understand ourselves and others better. There’s a reason that Jesus told stories. He could talk all day long to hard-hearted humans and give them commandments and rules, but they would have dismissed him and gone on their way. Instead, he gave them stories. Stories of people like they were, stories that used the context of Middle Eastern village life, stories of shepherds and fields and Samaritans and Pharisees. And in the stories, they saw themselves.
So keep on telling stories – yours and those of others. And keep on listening to the stories of others – Because when we stop telling stories, we will stop being human.
“Storytelling, then—fictional or nonfictional, realistic or embellished with dragons—is a way of making sense of the world around us.”*
A life story is written in chalk, not ink, and it can be changed.*