It will soon be May, the month in which my husband and I annually remember the day we said “I do.” Thirty-seven years, plus the four we knew one another before marriage, seems both an epic reel of memories and a brief snapshot of time.
May tags along after the annual reminder of losing our parents—both our mothers in April and dad just a year ago in March. Those reminders force the recognition that, though we’re not exactly old, there is more in the rear view mirror for us than the windshield. We think of our own mortality far more often than we used to.
We are born of ashes, dust, and the breath of God, and to them we will all one day return.
Our daughter is an archivist. She deals daily in the metaphorical ashes that are left when people are gone. She identifies, sorts, and catalogues what we leave behind. She’s occasionally been prodded by her occupation to ask for an oral history of the Hutchinson-Richardson family shenanigans. Though I love public speaking, I hate having a microphone shoved in my face. Somewhere in that act I forget every story I ever knew. Yet I know stories matter. I know because I wish I had them.
My parents left me with far more questions than answers. Their history is mostly blank, and I have little more than unidentified black and white photographs to sleuth out whatever I can piece together. I committed to scrapbooking my kids’ lives with us so that they would never have that taped over line banning entry into their past. Though they never met my parents, I want to gift them with that link, however fragile it might be.They think I’ve overdone it a bit, and they’re likely correct. I hope one day they’ll have the years of experience to know why.
Stories matter. I remember elementary-school-me bicycling to my library to check out a thick blue book called A Biography of Helen Keller. I read it over and over—I’m sure my name was inscribed on that yellow card the most. Helen inspired me, a small, youngest child, to think I could learn anything and help others with what I learned.
Stories matter. What is our Scripture but God’s compilation of stories to guide, comfort, and inspire us, but more than all those, to connect us? If not for the story of Hagar, would we comprehend the awe of being seen? Without all the Marys, would we have the courage to resolutely do what frightens us? Absent Abigail, might some have missed out on the comfort of knowing other women have married abusive men and survived?
Many of us have been molded more than we know by the stories of these women and others. They forge a connection between people long ago whom we might write off as unattainably heroic and make them human, like us. A single strong cord extends from Genesis to us, made up of stories of other fallible human beings and God’s love for them. For those of us without a past, maybe those stories can be a lifeline to a family we can claim. It’s made up of quite a crew, but then, so are most of our clans.
Our stories matter, too. Someone in the future might need to hear about our worst moments, our thriving (or surviving) after a health scare, or our joy at welcoming them into our world. They might be inspired by us facing our fears or planting our seeds of hope. I know I’ve believed I had all the time in the world to pass my stories on and not leave my kids without that anchor of identity, but reality says otherwise when I look in the mirror.
Maybe the idea of writing down stories exhausts you. I’m a writer, and I get that. Maybe the ghosts of English teachers past have crushed you into believing you can’t write a grocery list, let alone a story. (I used to be an English teacher, and I get that, too.) Might I suggest that if you don’t think you’re good at stories, think in photos.
Think about moments in time, and take a picture in your mind. Tell that story. If you’re crafty, scrapbook it, draw or paint a picture of it, make a paper collage—whatever. Write a few sentences that evoke the feelings—how did that moment smell, sound, feel? What were you thinking or hoping or grieving? Dictate your stories as audio files. Write them in a journal. Scrapbook them digitally or on paper. It’s the stories that matter—not the medium.*
Jesus said to a healed man—“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:38 NIV). Our stories matter because they tell of God’s eternal story intermingled with our finite one. They continue the cycle that the Psalmist writes about when he says that “generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts” (Ps 145:4 MSG). Keep the story going.
*That archivist, however has a few suggestions:
- Make sure you save writing in a pdf and have them stored at least twice in two separate areas (computer, flash drive, etc)
- If audio, save in a WAV or AVI file
- If artwork, make acid-free copies and keep them somewhere safe from fire and water