The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard tells us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” And so we tell stories–to ourselves and to others. Someone said that we live storied lives. A resume is a story tailored to an application, a self-introduction differs according to the occasion and audience; we tell one thing to a stranger, another to a therapist (or lover), and yet another to our children.
Stories define who we are, they change over time, some forgotten, others told again and again, polished, embellished, and re-written. Many remain buried in our subconscious forever, some to be disturbed by life’s dramatic unfolding. Stories can be individual and collective, real and imagined–more often a messy blend. Families have them (often as skeletons), as do tribes, trades, generations, professions, also groups formed along such lines as ethnicity, gender, interests, religion, and language. Without stories, who are you?
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) writes:
I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a graveside
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.
source: “Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunden” in: Rilke, R.M. Stundenbuch. Rilke’s book of hours: love poems to god. (1966). Translated by A. Barrows & J. Macy. New York: Riverhead Books, p. 51. image: tdsb.on.ca