According to an African proverb, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” Each life is truly a collection of stories, some hugely significant, some trivial, some hysterical, but all unique.
In my day to day life, I have the privilege of hearing many a tale from some crazy little story tellers. Most of them feature a monster of some fashion alongside Ninja and the like, sprinkled with potty humor throughout. Epic lego tales are spun in this household at a highly prolific pace. I treasure these toddler tales, even if they all seem to feature the same nonsensical plot.
I have been reminded these past few weeks of the great power of storytelling. You see, in the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to fly cross-country twice, a record for this momma who rarely travels beyond a 15-miles radius from our home. Flying solo when you are used to wrangling three energetic children is like vacationing on a desolate island, with the exception of a plane full of strangers. 25plus hours in the air dedicated to reading novels, writing poems, praying and processing thoughts… I was giddy at the thought. After all, this was an intovert’s dream.
I loved the novels and the notes, but I was shocked to find that I most enjoyed hearing stories from the various neighbors within elbow’s reach. Normally I am too frazzled and frayed to even look at my neighbor, except when Phin has ever-so-gently beat him on the head or Eli has repeatedly kicked her chair. These brief trips were the exception.
There was Harry, a meat-seller from West Palm Beach who proudly showed me pictures of his grand babies and wanted to discuss Catholicism and the Bible. There was an eccentric geography professor by day, musician by night, who proudly showed me his prized maps. There was a middle-aged woman who had just lost her mother and was carefully escorting an inherited porcelain doll as a keepsake for her daughter. There was the the elderly couple giddy at the thought of moving to Florida to live in a senior community but nervous to break the news to their daughter and son. So many stories, so many people.
Stories are for sharing. Unfortunately, we live in a fragmented, connected-yet-incredibly-isolated society. We are so absorbed in emails and games and movies, that we miss opportunities daily to simply hear a story or two from someone else’s personal library.
When I was visiting with my grandparents for the weekend, I wanted to hear every story they were willing to share. I wanted to know the trivial things, like how Grandpa lost the state championship for basketball or how long my Grandparents lived in New Jersey. I wanted to know the heavy things, the stories we tend to throw in the basement of our hearts because they are too heavy to share or too hard to verbalize. I wanted to know about failed marriages and exotic vacations. I wanted to know it all.
If the African proverb is correct, there are entire libraries of comedy and tragedy and poetry that will become extinct at the death of each person. I want to know as many of our family’s stories as can fit into my heart and mind. I want to try to keep them alive for the next generation.