On the Stories of Others

Since the death of my mother, I’ve had this urge to reach out to old acquaintances. It’s not only that I wish to connect but I want to know more of their life stories. At my age, people have a lot of experience to draw on: happy moments and sad, adventures and mind-numbing routines, loved ones gained and lost, pain and pleasure and so much more.

Every person is story, a path taken. Some paths have been sweeter and others, but they’re all stories.

Do I want to write those stories down? Well, writers tend to like stories as material for future works. But I don’t think that’s my primary motivation. I mostly just want to see life from a different perspective than my own.

It All Goes By So Fast

When my father went to the hospital for the last time, he said to me, “It all goes by so fast.” He wasn’t a philosophical type or reflective man most of the time. He was a doctor and man of action. But in his last hours, he gifted me with that observation, and I don’t think I’ve made the most of it since.

But now I’d like to. How does one stretch time out a bit? No idea, really. I know that theoretically you could do some really interesting things with a really fast spaceship, but I don’t think that would stretch out your psychological experience of time.

I’ve read some articles on the topic. One recommends, among other things reminiscing. I suppose that’s one reason I’m increasingly drawn to the stories of friends and acquaintances. It’s not so much that I want to relive old times. In fact, I really don’t care if I’m involved in their stories. From a purely selfish perspective, I guess I just want to expand my own experiences through theirs, to acquire insights that have often been hard won by others.

This is part of what reading is for, of course. By reading a good book, fiction or nonfiction, you’re broadening your life–or at least seem to be–in ways that are nearly miraculous. But there’s something different about listening to someone tell you about their life in real time.

And there’s something different yet about reading letters. Too bad that’s a dying art form, killed by social media, email and every other electronic pastime filling our days, from computer games to Netflix. (Yes, you can write a letter in email form, but how many people actually do?)

Tell Me Your Story

So, I suggest starting a movement. Let’s call it the “tell me your story” movement. Sit down with a friend and ask them to tell you some of their stories. Some won’t especially want to. Maybe they’re embarrassed, or may they believe their story is none of your damn business (which is fair).

But some will. You’ll get to live through their eyes for a brief time, and you’ll learn to understand them as individuals in a deeper way than you had before. To me, that feels like one of the most precious gifts ever given and, in fact, more precious for being rare in the electronic wastelands of our modern lives (says the man typing away on his digital device).

At some level, though, we’re aware of the precious nature of these gifts. It’s one of the reasons many still croon the words to “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve, even if we can’t exactly remember what they mean. You know the ones:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne

The title, which literally translates to “old long since,” is an ode of past times, old friends and lost loves.

Stories can “bring to mind” old acquaintances, but they can also do more, I think. They’re capable of enriching us in ways few other things can.

Featured image by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli - A garden party. Storytelling, Wikimedia Commons