Sharon Randall: What’s your story?
Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2022
By Sharon Randall
What’s your story? The one you’ve been learning all your life, that tells where you’ve been, where you’re going, what you’ve learned along the way, who you’ve loved, who you are and hope to be someday?
When you tell that story, who’s your best listener? Who do you count on to hang on every word?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about stories, what they do for us and why they’re important.
Growing up in the South, even before I learned to say “y’all” or gnaw the kernels off an ear of corn, I learned how to be still and listen with all my senses to a story. I didn’t understand the words. Not at first. Words and their meanings came later.
But I was born into a family of storytellers. My parents and grandparents. My aunts and uncles. My bossy big sister and my blind baby brother. The dogs that slept under the porch and even the fleas that slept on the dogs. They all told stories.
All I had to do was listen. And as I listened, I learned that every good story has three important parts. Do you know what they are? I’ll bet you do. You’re smart. And it’s a no-brainer.
Every good story—like every good life—has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The beginning is a stopper, a few magic words that grab the listeners so they’ll sit up and pay attention: “Once upon a time there were three bears….”
The middle can be anything that will keep the listeners hooked. The bears go to the mall. An intruder breaks into their house, eats all their Pop-Tarts, trashes the living room and passes out on Baby Bear’s bed. Then the three bears come home and “There she is!”
In the end, the intruder makes a break for it, never comes back to the bear’s abode, and they all live happily ever after.
Your story might not sound like that. Mine doesn’t. Except the part about eating Pop-Tarts and trashing the living room.
But what our stories and our lives tend to share in common is structure: A beginning, a middle and an end; we’re born, we live and then, well, we move on.
To tell a whole story takes all its parts. But to tell it in pieces—just the beginning and some of the middle—we don’t need to know the end. We can tell what we know as life unfolds and trust for a happy ending.
Why? Stories have always been, and will always be, the way we understand ourselves and each other. They tell us who we are, separately as individuals and collectively as people.
They point out our differences, but at the same time, they show us how we’re all alike, what we have in common and how very much we need each other.
I often hear from readers who tell me my stories are their stories, too. I love that. It’s my next-t0-favorite comment. My most favorite comment came from a kindergartner who, after hearing my story on how I once tripped my brother on a barbed-wire fence, said, “That’s the meanest thing I ever heard. I can’t believe you did that.”
Maybe I’ll tell that story to my grandkids. They’ll say, “Nana’s cool, but don’t cross her.”
Good, bad or horrid, our stories can tell it all, including things that make us more human (and might not be mentioned at our funeral.) Or they can be edited a bit, as my grandad’s often were, to cast us in a slightly kinder light.
As much as we need to tell our own stories, we also need to listen to the stories others tell. Even if we’ve heard them before. An old familiar tale can have a different meaning depending on why it’s being told. Maybe the teller just needs to tell it again.
If we don’t share our stories with each other—with people who mean the world to us, or strangers we meet in the check-out line—we might never truly know ourselves, or one another or why on Earth we are here.
What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Tell it to someone. And ask them to tell you theirs, too.
Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.