“I could not stop talking because now that I had started my story, it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us. ” ~Chris Cleave, Little Bee
I guess it is the time of year, rich with tales of journey and mystery in practically all faiths and families, which has me thinking about storytelling. My personal story is neither an unusual nor an important one; I am clearly getting by in Breast Cancer Survivor class by the skin of my teeth, and only then because smarter people let me cheat off their papers. But I started to tell my story here anyway, and some of you said that it reminded you of your stories too, which is the whole reason that I wanted to tell it in the first place, and which warms my heart beyond words.
We tell our stories to each other in sacred detail, as if describing a landscape to a passing traveler on the road. She tells us where she has been and what she has seen and our voices rise with a recognition and relief that nears excitement: Yes, yes, I have been there too. I am sure it is the same place because it was exactly how you have described it. Now let me tell you what is just beyond the mountains up ahead. Or what you would have seen if you had followed the river. Our paths have been different, but we have seen the same landscapes, and the ones we have seen allow us to visualize the ones we have missed. We have traveled the same road.
I would never have guessed that we would be sharing so much of our stories and of ourselves on anything with such funny names as “blogs” and “twitter”, but I should not be surprised. Get a group of breast cancer survivors together, anywhere and for any reason, and you will quickly learn what veteran preschool teachers everywhere already know: you had better have built in time to “share” or your “circle-time” schedule is going to be shot. We cannot stop talking; who would silently pass the fellow traveler? She might tell us what is ahead. Or remind us of what we have passed. Either way, we will have company, if only for the moment, on the journey.
Most of us could never have predicted the stories we now tell. We did not get to choose where the stories began nor where they will stop. Nobody on the planet has that choice, of course, but survivors of many things have come face to face with that reality in a way that others, perhaps, have not. And while I am sure there are those out there who would not trade one single part of their story for anything, many of us, given the choice, might have cherry-picked our way to a different story. One with the personal growth and without the pathology report. One with trips to Hawaii instead of trips for Herceptin. We take in the big and beautiful sky, the rushing river, but we do not forget the rocks in our feet.
We may not all be experts in breast cancer, but we became and we are experts in our own experience. We were quick studies in breast cancer once, learning everything we needed to learn so that we could figure out what to do and how to be okay. Somewhere along the line, though, we started to realize how much we will never know. And that reality became the journey. In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Remen says that “facts bring us to knowledge, but stories lead us to wisdom.” Perhaps that is why we keep storytelling. We share the journey, we share the mystery, and, in time, we share the wisdom.
Tell your story.