"We pass on stories to each other, the stories that contain the central truths of life. Many years ago, driving one hundred miles each way to graduate school, I learned Shakespeare's telling of Agincourt by the dashboard light. What moved me most as I would recite it aloud was that, as a story to rally courage against all odds, it had been passed on. The ones returning from battle told it to their loved ones, to their neighbors, to their friends, and ever after that to children when they were old enough to hear it. As I struggled with my life I felt the story passed along to me.

"In the human family we pass stories on. Details get blurred, new ones get added on, some aspects change. The tale itself is alive. The basic truth remains that made the story worth the telling.

"My mother recounts what happened to her great-grandmother when she first came to America. She had sailed with her father from Ireland, the ship landing in Boston. All the money the family had been able to save to give them a start was in coins sewed inside his vest. He left his daughter in Boston to go to Philadelphia where a relative might have work for him. When he got there an epidemic was ravaging the poor. He was sickened with the plague, and died, buried in some unmarked place still wearing the vest.

"Against all odds. My mother's great-great grandmother was left penniless, alone. Somehow she made her way using the skill she'd learned in Ireland of making lace. A Quaker doctor's family took her in, and she married a young man apprenticed to the doctor. 'Otherwise I would not be here telling you this story,' my mother would say with her little understated smile.

"Women tell the story. Men returning after Agincourt. Israelites in the desert. Christians after Pentecost. In the human family mystery is experienced in life. The tales are told of mixedness, of suffering and mercy, of the hungers and the feasts. Men and women, generation after generation, pass the stories on, and in the telling, faith and hope and love are nurtured. Embodied in the stories are the lessons of the heart."