I was raised on the life-breathing magic of stories. Stories formed my ideas about family, allowed me to see the strength of women, and convinced me of the potency of laughter.
Stories helped my family survive poverty and oppression. Like the one about my grandmother’s craftiness at getting crabs in a pot (or on a toe). Or the one about my mom’s valiant attempts at baking that usually failed. Or the one about my brother giving my sisters severe haircuts.
I am smiling now as I think of these stories, and how they made our often difficult lives seem bright and funny and joy-filled. This is what storytelling means to me. Good stories are a lifeline in times of difficulty and stress. They remind me of the resilience of my lineage, and the happiness one can find in the midst of hard times.
My life, especially my inner life, is also informed by another type of story: the stories I tell myself silently when I am afraid. These stories are powerful, too. They have the power to paralyze me. They make me believe I understand the motives of others, that I can’t survive frightening experiences, that I am a fraud.
A day or so after the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was telling myself those uneasy stories when I received a text from a close friend: How are you?
I replied: I am heartbroken.
She asked what she could do, but I didn’t know what I needed or wanted. I was wrapping myself up in my story, and wasn’t sure I wanted to be – or even could be – pulled out of it.
She said she would write me a love poem. Here’s what she wrote:
Love is not for the faint of heart
but really –
we are all fainters
bent broken stolen abandoned
I am here for the duration
sturdy Irish stock to thank
minus the silences
the cold shoulders
the centuries of turned backs
I am here for the love and the
the raking over
the popping of lids –
to greet the ugly thing
the forgotten thing the thing wished away
silenced repainted paved-over despised
I am here for all of it
every corner of you
every crack to be kissed and cherished and
in the claiming
Love is not for the faint of heart
or committing it all
to a lying memory
I am here for the duration –
so long as we are enduring
the sound of our names
in our lost parents’
as long as we are fighting,
fighting for our stories
our imperfect truths
I am here.
~ Jaime M. Grant
In pain and love, I responded with a poem that ended “To thine own self be dead,” a chant to remind myself to release whatever in my story no longer serves me, and allow love to enter and transform me.
Upon writing my response and receiving my friend’s loving heart holding my pain, I was able to let go. Sometimes I need to sit with the pain, sometimes I need to share it with a friend. Sometimes I need a pen to write it out, and other times I need to counter it with old family stories of love and laughter. Whatever it takes, however long it takes, I need to find ways to drop the narratives that hold me back, and pick up the stories of truth that have been the lifeline to get me here.
To lean into that greater truth may frighten me even more, but the universe is bigger than my small self. She can hold me and all that I fear. If I look to her and learn from her, much can be overcome.
As I think about all that is happening in our world today, I wonder what would happen if we all found our own ways to drop the stories of fear we tell ourselves. How might we lead together, change this world together, without those narratives shaping us?