Memories are the basis of our stories. Episodes from the past respond to familiar stimuli and spring into the present. They shade our past with sadness or lighten it with pleasure and joy.
Dorianne Laux begins her poem, “Family Stories”:
I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
from Smoke. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000
Emotion determines how we remember an episode. It explains why an aging parent and middle-aged child who experienced the same occurrence remember it differently, or not at all. The data is carried emotively in our memory banks and rearranged in our story.
Unfortunately we remember our feelings associated with criticisms and negative actions more than the positive. We harbor regrets, move them from corner to corner in the basement and mostly manage to cover them with the patchwork quilt of time. It would be nice if our stories didn’t sprout from anger and the sins of the fathers and mothers being passed down through generations. Did anyone have a parent who never lost their temper?
Flannery O’Connor is a storyteller who extracts emotion from her family and neighbors and liberally spices her characters with it. In her writing family relationships reflect the stories of generations as they merge to create new stories. Our Adagio families tell the “good” stories first that show everyone in a good light. We nod and wait and slowly we hear the adversities, faults, health challenges that offer explanations for the behaviors that are becoming our care stories.
“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.” In our personal story we desire a happy ending. Through the years we edit the data. We tell the story as we need to remember it. Those who hear the story do so from their perspective.
Reality may wait on the resource shelf. To again quote Miss O’Connor, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” But in time the facts are no longer the story. To demand the sun’s full exposure of reality is unreal, as the story’s conclusion trails into the clouds like pastels from a fading sunset. The covering perspective of evening allows us to laugh.
“There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.”
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose.
Tell your story while there is still time, if only to yourself.