This Much I Know

"Every day we have at least one gut-check moment. Every day we are asked, 'Do you want to hear a story?' A hundred times a day our deeper life awaits our signal that, yes, we are listening. Whether we are camped around a fire on the Comanche Moon trail, sitting in the literary salons of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas on the Rue des Fleurs in Paris, craning our necks during a Hollywood studio script meeting, cosseting our children by reading out loud to them from the great round of Harry Potter adventures, or trading old baseball stories in the stands with old teammates, we are responding to the blue longing in our restless souls to be carried away by the kind of story that makes life worth living.

" 'That's the way things come clear,' wrote Madelaine L'Engle, winner of the Newbery Medal for children's literature. 'All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they've been all along.'

" 'Two things make a story,' said Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. 'The net and the air that falls through the net.'

" 'The world is made up of stories, not atoms,' remarked the American poet Muriel Rukeyser.

" 'The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth,' wrote Raymond Chandler of his character, Philip Marlowe, 'and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure.'

"When asked why he wrote stories, Vladimir Nabakov said, 'I don't wish to touch hearts. I don't even want to effect minds very much. What I really want to produce is that little sob in the spine of the artist-reader.'

" 'A word has power in and of itself,' writes the Kiowa storyteller and scholar N. Scott Momaday. 'It comes from nothing into sound and meaning; it gives origin to all things. By means of words can a man deal with the world on equal terms. And the word is sacred.'

"Word by word, image by image, memory by memory, we accumulate stories on our journey through life that tell us who we are and how we fit into the greater story. The journey that began with our ancestors long ago at the edge of the old world as carried on, like churning white water down the course of a river, now carries us. And we keep them moving in our own writing, catching up over holiday meals with stories of loved ones, swapping stories and brag-book photos of our kids at children's playgrounds, by finding the robust narrative that gives movement to our ideas in politics, or, sadly, in eulogies at the funerals of our close friends.

"This is how we carry on. By pushing our raft of stories down the river of life so we can understand ourselves, and each other better than if we lived in stone-cold silence. When folks ask what I mean when I say stories save our souls, that is what I tell them; stories save us when they heal us from the pain of living without a raft, without meaning, without knowing where we're going.

"To paraphrase Goethe when the mind is at sea, a new story provides a raft.

"Life happens; stories mean."