Here is the shortest story I’ve heard: Grandma loves Ella. This story contains all of the necessary parts of a story: “a speaker, a listener, an action, a message and a heart on fire.” (9). In Tell Me a Story: The Life-shaping Power of Our Stories, Daniel Taylor tells us that “We live in stories the way fish live in water, breathing them in and out, buoyed up by them, taking from them our sustenance . . . We are born into stories . . . . stories make it possible for us to be human” (5-7).
Some suggest that the human brain attempts to process experience in narrative form. How else do we make sense of life? We integrate what might at first appear as separate events into a meaningful whole. There is width, depth, and height to our lives. When we make connections between things we discern the stuff of our story.
So what do we look for? According to Taylor “Anything that reveals or explores our humanity. What matters, among other things, is a human encounter with and response to pain, happiness, evil, boredom, love, hate, grace, violence, goodness, greed, God, laughter, spite, and on and on” (17). Human emotion leads us into stories.
Taylor also says “If you cannot convincingly articulate a plot for your life, you are living a broken story” (3). If I am living a broken story why would I want to tell it? We tell our stories because, broken stories can be healed. We tell our stories because we are never so whole as when we feel understood” and we tell our stories, broken as they are, to allow us to reshape and reinterpret our patterns of existence (Josselson 108).
Seven years ago, I began to comprehend what my story is. As I know it and tell it, I find that I more easily connect with others. With accuracy and increasing gentleness, I am able to be understood and to create new patterns for my life.
People have experiences across the spectrum of possibilities from good to neutral and all the way to bad. Learning to talk about neutral to good experiences can be challenging enough. But it can be difficult to find words for bad experiences, especially for children when their cognitive abilities to make sense of it have been overwhelmed. Taylor declares “Deprive children of their stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions and their words” (7). One of the responsibilities of adults is to assist children in telling their stories. Sometimes the child we assist is the one within.
It all sounds like a lot of work, especially if we have not kept up with our stories as they have been unfolding. So, again, why bother? When we are willing to linger with painful experiences, we can learn to stop them from occurring again; we can change the course of the future. Reflective conversation is required to gain wisdom from our pain. “Stories do not require happy endings, but they must hold out the possibility for things being different than they are.” (20). The suffering from irrational behavior can come to an end.