For many of us, our most memorable stories come from family folklore. These are the stories that inform us about who we are and where we came from. We’ve either lived these moments or had them passed down from other generations, and have filed them in our memory boxes marked, Important Life Lessons. These lessons can be drawn upon throughout our lives, whether we are seven or 70.
My very best and earliest storytelling teachers were Ida Mae, my next-door neighbor, and my grandfather, PaPa.
I first came to know Ida Mae when I was just two years old; nearly six decades later I cried my heart out at her funeral. Even though we were not relatives, Ida Mae and her husband, P.D., showed me and my family fierce, unconditional love throughout our lives. That was part of what made our relationship so special.
My grandfather PaPa was another important and loving figure in my life. He shared crucial life lessons through stories when I came to stay with him and my grandmother Nennie on their farm in Terry County, while Mother and Daddy were visiting medical experts in search of a treatment for Daddy’s heart disease. PaPa and I would walk the fields each night after dinner, before the sun went down, and he would regale me with stories about why rabbits are bad for the cotton crop. However, he admonished me, you don’t want to kill them, especially mother rabbits with babies. Through his storytelling, PaPa taught me many valuable life lessons about compassion and reverence for all living creatures.
The life stories I’ve found most educational have come from alcoholics who shared their own painful path to sobriety and how they reached that destination one day at a time, for three months, six months or even a year. Their courageous examples inspired me to believe that I, too, could reach that destination, one day and step at a time. And I did.
Those recovering alcoholics, their stories and their support kept me going. They made a difference and, because of them and my higher power, I celebrated 36 years of sobriety this past July.
I have learned, over the years, that the best stories are the simplest. I began to see a narrative link that runs from beginning to end. I learned to parse a story’s narrative arc as follows:
- What it was like at the beginning of the story?
- What happened?
- What it was like at the end? (What did I learn?)
In last week’s blog, I encouraged each of you to write down your own summer memories. This week, use the prompt below for self-reflection and see if it sparks you to write your own simple story. For an example, read my post LET GO OF THE ROPE!
Think of a time in your past when you struggled to let go. Perhaps your struggle was as simple as not being able to part with a possession. Sometimes we struggle with larger life issues or extreme grief. Take some time to write down a few raw memories. Then, use the questions above to help create an outline of a simple story. If you’re feeling inspired, start writing and see what happens.