Stories

I recently listened to a TED Radiohour on NPR about growing up. British poet Lemn Sissay talked about his background as an orphan. He described the role of families in a way that really resonated.

Sissay said…

We are our story. Family is a group of people building story for each other. And (then) building another family and taking that story on…. That is the making of who we are. We are simply the story.

Each generation creates a new part of the story; merges different stories together. We can choose, in part, what story we want to write, but we can never disconnect fully from the chapters that were written before because that is part of who we are and part of who our kids will become.

Like a tree. Or a tapestry. Complex and complicated. We can never step back far enough to see the entire picture. And even though we may not see it, the old chapters shape our today.

I think about family a lot since the birth of my son. What is the story I’m helping to create for Chase?

What is the story I inherited from my grandparents?

What is the story I have and am still creating with my parents?

They are all connected, but also separate. My wife is part of my story, but she’ll never completely understand the story I’ve created with my parents because she wasn’t there for the early chapters, like the shared experience of immigrating to the United States or the vacations driving around the southwest in our old van. And I’ll never fully understand the story she has with her parents.

Funny thing about stories: they don’t even have to be fact. Stories are about perspective and memory. My story is a reality that I’ve jointly created with all the family members in my life through shared experiences and the memories created by re-telling those experiences.

Equally impactful are the chapters that were written well before my birth; from my familial roots in Germany. My grandparents lived through WWII and my parents were born into it. I listened to the stories — used to pester my Omi for them. Over time, those stories have taken on a cinematic quality in my memory. The events my grandparents endured are foreign to anything I’ve experience in my life and yet, through that story telling, they became part of my story too. Those stories helped me understand my roots and gave my existence a feeling of place, a direction from which to grow, a respect for the people that helped shape my life.

I think that is one of the greatest gifts a stable family can give a child and what I hope Tara and I give Chase: a sense that he is part of an ongoing narrative that reaches back far in time and that he will contribute to throughout his own life.


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