To tell the story ... to hear it

This was the weekend of The Play. The Doghouse Theater troupe at the high school did a production - a crazy, inventive, imaginative, energetic, slightly off-balance but never falling down, exuberant production - of Robert Fulghum's All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The players put a crazy old man into the clouds on a lawn chair, and played hide and seek as little kids, and waltzed as senior citizens, and danced with the kitchen sink, and very realistically had the bride throw up. Everything that was still being figured out and decided as late as the morning of opening night got figured out, and all the players who seemed as if they'd never learn their lines did learn them, and the whole thing was really quite fascinating. They did a great job.

And it got me thinking about the power of a Good Story. It draws us in - every time - nobody can resist a good story. Very little children will listen (over and over and over) as their favorite stories are told, and will revel (over and over and over) in the anxiety of the baby bird looking for its mother. I haven't yet met the child who didn't care about that bird - for the eighty-seventh time.

Of course, if you know the ending, then "you are not my mother! You are a Snort!" is side-splittingly funny and not horrifying like it was the first time. But the story is just as full of ... as full of ... what is it?

The academics can tell us that a Story is, at its most basic, a situation into which comes some anxiety, which is then followed by resolution. Is that it? Is that the reason all God's chil'n love stories? Is it because we somehow sense that our own situations could include some anxiety at any moment? Is there a sort of underlying insecurity we all feel - some psychological residue of that first "startle reflex" every baby has? Some knowledge that our own situations are precarious somehow and that we do - or that sometime, someday, we surely will - need some kind of resolution in our lives?

The attraction to Story has to be something intrinsically human - it just has to be. It is a universal attraction - all the people from all times in every place have had the Story. Campbell called these stories "myth." We use the words "legend" and "tall tale" when we talk about Paul Bunyan and Casey at the Bat. Young people have categories of stories - ghost stories, for instance. Mid-schoolers will make them up when they run out of them at slumber parties. And babysitters distract and entertain this way, and millions of parents are begged at bedtime to "tell me a story."

Good stories draw us in. They take us to places we have never known, but even when we do not know any place like that, when it's a good story we will always know people like that. We are people like that.

When I started this blog back in January, I wrote about a painting - Between Green and Orange, by Don Dahlke. I began to see that the Land Between was my native land. I can see now that I live between the seen and unseen - between the mortal and immortal - between the theory and the practice - in the land of Why and What About The Other Thing. I think this is why that painting made me cry - it was calling me to come to where I really live. Between.

When I think about that painting it is the same as listening for the Story. I find myself straining to hear -- something. Music, maybe. But "music of the spheres" and a sound made when "the trees of the field clap their hands." Choirs too - I hear choirs - almost. It is Emily of New Moon's "flash" that comes to me.

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside--but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond--only a glimpse--and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely--went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it--never summon it--never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. To-night the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of "Holy, holy, holy" in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a "description" of something. And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

But that is Emily's flash. For me, it is different. For me, it is a door. I stand in front of a door that is barely open, but is opening. On the other side, I know - I know in a way that is more certain than my awareness of my own existence - I know that when the door opens, what lies on the other side is a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty. All the best stories are, I think, the promise of it. And all the anxieties we feel (all the plot points of all the stories) are the human worry that when that door opens, we might miss it.

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