I only found out about a month ago that National Storytelling Weekend exists. My first thought was: Only a weekend? It’s not enough time. All of life is about living, shaping, and finally telling our stories.
But we should take this weekend to notice our stories, and to really think about why we tell them. Since the Illiad, humanity has been caught in an attempt to capture big, universal experiences and emotions through words. Experiences like love, family, loss, friendship, death, God. It’s quite a feat. And yet throughout history, certain artists have captured the impossible—through stories.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the exact stories I’m talking about—those that attempt to capture the impossible—explains humanity’s need to tell their stories:
“We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives, experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before. Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories—each time in a new disguise—maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.”
That word “WE” means not only famous American authors who have penned classic novels are allowed to tell their stories. They are not the only ones being dazzled and rescued. It’s all of us. It’s us LVs who leave the people who know our stories. These people are the characters in our novels, but we will undoubtedly add new characters to our stories. We carry our own stories around on our backs to every new place we go, whether it’s the LEO Center in Oakland or Tides Family Services in Rhode Island.
In my work at Tides, I serve families who have started to tell me their stories. I have to admit, if we’re talking about stories as a weight on our backs, these stories are of a heavier variety than what I’m used to. I feel humbled that I’m allowed to enter families’ homes, let alone hear their stories. But it’s happening. I’ve learned how to be quiet when I need to be, because in the quiet is when the stories come. Telling stories gives life meaning, which is a comfort when life seems random and chaotic.
If we can sketch our own plots and see the trajectory of our lives, then our lives become something we own, a book we can hold in our hands. If I can help the families I serve tell their own stories, even if it’s just through my quiet, then I feel I’ve made a difference. And, as that last line of Fitzgerald’s quote suggests, a story needs a listener. I am learning to be that person to my clients.
Angela Toomer, 11-12 LEO Center, Oakland, CA & 12-13 Tides Family Services, Pawtucket, RI