Last Sunday was my birthday. In the days leading up to the grandly disinteresting occasion, I found myself musing idly on the purpose of birthdays. Having moved past all of the rites of passage which lent meaning to my earlier birthdays, I wondered whether my advancement in age still held any significance. When we get together with our family and friends on our “special day”, just what is it that we’re celebrating, I pondered? Our continued existence? The meaning we’ve gleaned from our experiences of life? The times we’ve shared with those who enrich us in countless ways? Our achievements and contributions to the world? No, for I suspect that, like so many traditions, the birthday has become a hollow event, a pointless burst of narcissism which the invited celebrants often couldn’t care less about.
I found myself suddenly consumed with the idea that this birthday of mine should mean something, not only to myself, but also to those I shared it with. If my birthday was to be a celebration of my life, I thought, perhaps I should look backwards through my years to see what wisdom may lie there, what intriguing lessons, what entertaining tales. I therefore embarked on a new project, excavating many of the stories of my past and compiling them together, attempting to paint a picture of my evolution through life which I could then share with others. I hoped that this would lend meaning to what might otherwise be a meaningless affair simply marking the passage of one more year.
Was this act merely narcissistic and self- indulgent? No, I realized. I was on to something here. The stories I chose to share were as much about those I would share them with as about myself, and not only because they were featured in my tales. The process of storytelling, I came to realize, binds both speaker and audience together, as the meaning in the words is transferred from one’s mind to the world outside. It is a gift of one’s self to those who have helped to nurture that self: the family, the circle of friends, the community. Branching out from my original focal point, I began writing a series of Mother’s Day tales as well, featuring my relationship with my mom, its twists and turns. It was then that I realized what I was doing. I was creating a family mythos of sorts, by dusting off our old stories from the shelves of my memory and sharing them anew.
Through this process, I came to know how empowering it is to take back the active role of storyteller in my own life. We do not require the “glass tit” to entertain us, and we don’t need professional entertainers to make up our mythos for us. There is a place for pop culture’s mass entertainment, to be sure. But what if there was also a place in our lives for our own stories… for our families and friends to share with us their true experiences of life, their discoveries and adventures, trials they have endured and the wondrous knowledge they have gained? Might this not enrich all our lives now, as it did in ancient times?
I visualize a familial group, or perhaps a tribe, sitting around a campfire exchanging stories of the hunt, their travels on migration, the personal lore of their family history, the triumphs and challenges faced by their grandparents and by their children. These people spoke of themselves and their own small world because that is what they knew, and tales of their tribal heroes became a part of myth. I imagine that some of these myths of ancient warriors and brave deeds became what we today know as folklore, passed from mouth to ear for centuries, until the tale, and the wisdom it contained, became more than personal. It became a tale that transcended the personal, rich with the very essence of humanity. This tale was sung by traveling bards for many years before finally being transcribed on paper and preserved for centuries.
Storytelling hearkens back to those earlier times, when real, human achievement was more readily celebrated and shared. It reminds us that there is meaning in our lives and resonance in our words. We know more than any Hollywood- generated character. We are real. We are engaged, moment-by-moment, in the process of living. Storytelling reminds us that we do not always need to be entertained. Sometimes we only need to Be, and to let the story of our lives flow through us.
Soahki is a contributing writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog.