I’ve appropriated the phrase from the Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles, who found narrative to be the best way of communicating with his patients. In his words, “Their story, yours, and mine – it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.”
The instinct to shape experience into story, using the most human of tools, language, may be one of our primal drives. For most of us, especially for writers, the door to the world was opened with tales we heard. As Flannery O’Connor once remarked, “I think the writer is initially set going by literature more than life.” Literature is essentially a story made universal through the mysterious, mythic power of the right words in the right order.
Most of us yearn for stories, not because they will save us from the consequences of the world, but because they help us to find our humanity in facing those moments, both expected and surprising. For me, Cormac McCarthy explains succinctly and gracefully the importance of telling and listening in the concluding volume of the Border Trilogy, Cities of the Plain: “Every man’s death is a standing in for every other. And since death comes to all there is no way to abate the fear of it except to love the man who stands for us. We are not waiting for his history to be written. He passed here long ago. The man who is all men and who stands in the dock for us until our own time comes and we must stand for him. Do you love him, that man? Will you honor the path he has taken? Will you listen to his tale?”
The tales to be shared in Old Dominion University’s 31st annual Literary Festival come from world-class storytellers, be they musicians, poets, essayists or novelists. Listen.