As fall turns to winter, I’d like to reconsider a particular reaction.
We have all been in the room before. Someone else is there…it might be one person, or two, or a crowd. A friend or family member begins a story. We’ve heard it already…many times.
But we let them go on out of politeness. (Is this person okay? Is he well? Does he not remember telling this story last Thanksgiving?)
This got me thinking about the importance of telling the same story again and again. First, it comes from a place of acknowledgement — I grow older, responsibilities increase, the kids acquire new demands; demands on my time, my attention, my bank account, my emotional and spiritual reservoir.
I used to think that my “elders” (I use this term carefully and loosely) were trapped in forgetfulness. At the dinner table, during or after, somehow, someway, the conversation inexorably drew to the moment where someone would re-commence the time when…
Often the details change. But what are details other than the sharp edges on a sugar cube? They don’t matter…around the pond of reminiscence, they polish down into the smooth stone of one-liners, zingers, bad accents, cued laughter. Or is it cued sadness? Either one, yes? Everything in between.
One day, not too many years ago, I noticed myself telling the same story…one I’d told many times. There was also this other strange little thought. I knew I was telling a story everyone had already heard. I knew it. They knew it. I knew that they knew it. And so on.
But, what followed proved to be an insight, albeit small. I did not care that I’d told this story before. I plowed through my social reserve and kept the performance alive, armed with those punches and zingers, cued their laughter, and delivered what my polite audience allowed. I told this story because it was a pleasure to tell. It’s always a pleasure to tell.
Because it is important. To me, it was a bright cherry along the branch of experience that is worth repeating. I have to repeat it. Others have to hear it. Memory is bad and faulty, and so much of what we live is lost along that long gray branch. But the bright cherries become the lodestars of identity. This is who I am. This is one among many stories that define the “johnness” of John to others…and to me.
Which leads me back to my original thought. That reaction! When a friend or family member begins again that story we’ve heard throughout the years…we stop, listen, and appreciate. We know they’ve told this story before. But they know it too! It does not matter.
We listen, because it is the teller’s pleasure to tell! We grant this woman or man the dignity of his or her story, the dignity of his or her life and experience. We permit them the bright cherry of identity. We listen…because it is a pleasure to listen.