Photo of the relics of the body of Saint Xavier housed within The Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India.

Truths and Lies or Why We Need Stories

They say we should write stories about what we know. But who wants to roam the streets where they live? Like the comfortable buttoning and unbuttoning of an old coat there is nothing new to be found on the well-worn path. If we returned in another life, even the homes we now inhabit and the views we gaze upon would seem instinctively familiar.

We have reached the limits of our stories. We have unraveled the golden thread of our lives and found that it leads nowhere. In the squares where we gossip and grow old, there are no more mysteries shining in the sun.

But there are cities you have never seen, with streets you have never crossed, and towers you have never climbed. You will gasp when I tell you that, here, children play with knives on the edges of roofs and live in windowless dwellings. That deep within one such dwelling, a blind woman arises from her mattress, like gossamer, to sense the sun before it heaves up from behind the horizon and can name the exact moment at which a new day is born. You will believe me when I tell you that all babies are birthed in the ocean, even in the dead of winter, pulled wet and blue from the water, the opalescent water, while seagulls exult in the skies above; and that these same infants, lulled into the tide of sleep, dream only of whales, and awaken sometimes to their trumpet calls in the dead of night.

You will believe all this, won’t you, because not to believe is to live without stories, to know that your own truths have unraveled, or worse, that they hide behind invented lies, like myths of great leaders that will never be brought down.


But know, that for every lie there is a truth, and for every truth, a lie. This is tricky terrain. Just as the sun sets over one land, yet rises in another, so it is with truth and lie; one does not negate the other. Even as a lie is whispered into the ear of your beloved at midnight, somewhere, a madman on a street corner shouts the truth in the midday sun. Some stories begin simply like this, with a whisper or a shout. But how are you to know what is truth and what is lie?

It is not easy, for the whispered lie is believed and entombed deep in the heart while the shouted truth is ignored, lost to the wind. The texture of dawn may be no different than that of dusk, but, in time, one unveils the sun; the other, the moon. And just as the sleeping child makes no distinction between dawn and dusk, so it is with a story. In time, you will awaken to its truths, or its lies. Which will it be?

Your heart will tell you. It will look to lies if you cannot face your own truths, it will look to truths if you are tired of lies. But its not so simple. Take for example an old steam engine, a once gleaming terrifying thing that took people into the future, but now abandoned in a scrapyard. Fill its belly with coal, and fire up the old engine again, and though cogs may reluctantly turn, and pistons hiss in protest, it performs, it does what is expected of it, no more, no less.

So it is with the machinations of the heart. They are invented with but one purpose — to conceal. And just as a hawk cannot suddenly start cooing like a dove, so the heart cannot betray itself. Ask yourself this: what are the machinations of your heart? What secrets does it conceal?

To conceal is to protect.


I wish the choice between truth and lie could be unequivocally weighed towards one or the other, but it isn’t. The universe leans of its own choosing, like a tree towards water, or a gambler to her dice.The scales hang, quivering, in the balance.

And if we seek to look more deeply, rather than broadly, for an answer (like fleas upon fleas), we find half truths and half lies atop quarter-truths and quarter-lies perched on microtruths and microlies; until we are left with the simultaneous wildly shifting truth and lie of the electron, believed to fly in devoted orbit about the nucleus, but impossible to pin down exactly, to know its nature.

The ambiguity of the atom. The merging of truths and lies into one.

There is no escaping this atomic destiny, this moiré of truths and lies that atom upon atom, molecule upon molecule, layer upon layer, give density to our being and infiltrate our stories — the stories we invent, weave into a coherent tale, breathe life into, and then carry like an amulet about the neck.

We thumb through our narratives, rewrite memory, and repeat our lies. We hammer them flat on an anvil so they are free of any spark of ambiguity, until — truth be told — we are not even aware we are doing it. We have numbed ourselves down to the bone.

Bone.

The only repository of truth left, I suppose, for bone is bone, with or without its mantle of flesh. We worship the bones of saints for there is something ultimately comforting about bones. They tell no lies. They hide nothing behind their dull whiteness. But they tell no stories either. And we cannot live without stories.


I hope this helps you to uncover your own stories to tell, and to ask where your truths lie. I have to thank Jeanette Wintersen who, through her own writing, has let me know its OK to write like this if we, indeed, need to grant ourselves permission. I can be reached at yi35@cornell.edu

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