This past weekend was filled with storytelling. Over dinners, sitting by the lake, talking on the phone, reading the newspaper, surfing the web, there was one story told from countless different vantage points, each of us scratching an itch that has been ten years in the making. As I listened to my friends, family and fellow citizens of the world share their stories and took time to tell my own, I was reminded how powerful a role storytelling plays in our lives. It is the way we most readily communicate as social beings, and in relating stories to others, we connect with them under an umbrella of common understanding and shared humanity. But storytelling is about more than just connecting to people. It is also the mechanism by which we uncover memories, find meaning from them and leverage both to strengthen our resolve.
When we relive memories, we do so through storytelling. It is amazing to me how a story can so quickly unearth feelings and emotions that we thought had been quietly closeted away—how in an instant it can make us recount the fear and confusion we felt on a late summer morning and the anguish we experienced over the weeks and months that followed it. Memories are resilient little things. They rarely die, and they will rise up and force their way through any door cracked open; and more times than not, it’s storytelling that unlocks that door.
Certain memories are indeed filled with pain…
…as are the challenging, sometimes catastrophic events that spawned them. But in those painful memories, there is power, as we pull meaning from them. For it is the meaning gleaned from those memories that we act on, not the memories alone. And it is meaning that ultimately transforms us and our view of the world. As Tony Benetatos, a once rookie firefighter from lower Manhattan, so eloquently put it, “I don’t think it’s so much the severity of an event that alters who you are. It’s how you interpret it that changes you.”
In finding meaning in a memory, we pay respect both to it and to the event that created it. We also, in a way, take control of it versus letting it control us. We do even more when we cultivate that meaning into resolve: to change ourselves, our lives and the world around us for the better. For instance, resolve to not let fear get in the way of living. Resolve to call my congressman and pressure him to get cancer-stricken First Responders the compensation they so rightfully deserve. Resolve to never forget the past, but also to not let that past prevent me from looking to the future with promise and possibility.
Today is the one-year anniversary of my storytelling blog. It is an infinitesimally small and admittedly personal milestone in the shadow of a much more profound and universal one. Still, as I sit here today, I am grateful to be connected to this timeless and abundantly human craft, thankful for the meaning and resolve I was able to draw from this past weekend’s stories and utterly indebted to the thousands of lost lives behind them.