I had naked tea last week. A friend and I talked storytelling (that wasn’t the naked part) and then sitting in a donut shop, we quietly told our own. Naked is better with a tea cup than without, but given one cup of tea and three places requesting coverage, it isn’t easy. If the tea weren’t so hot, the best solution may be to keep the cup moving in a triangular blur, but the thought of burning tea is scary, so you take your chances, keep what you can behind the cup, and trust that your uncovered self can manage an hour of exposure. (The value of a practical imagination for diversion in the midst of emotionally difficult subjects cannot in my mind be underestimated.)
Awake in the night with no tea to consider, I wondered a question whose answer I have debated for years. Why do we tell our stories?
There are all the noble reasons people say they write . . . to save everybody else, etc. but I take those pronouncements with a grain of salt. They may well be true, but the only thing one can reliably say about preachers is that they preach.
Ten years ago and even five, the desire to tell my story was almost a burning. Then I put the pages in a drawer and gave them a time out. To my surprise, the words took to what I thought would be a brief sabbatical and requested an indefinite one.
Why now, I also asked in the night after my metaphorically nude tea time, do I want to forget my story?
The next morning I wrote a sincere list of reasons in favor of forgetting. It ended with, I don’t. I can’t. Even if I could, I wouldn’t.
My desire for written memoir is either dead or deeply dormant, but that isn’t the same thing. I don’t wish to remember out loud very often. But sometimes is good. When the children of Israel escaped safely through the Red Sea, Miriam wrote a song to tell the story. She named the terrors of the past to be present to the joys of her new unfolding reality. Deliverance foresees a future. Telling our stories assumes we were delivered for a purpose.
Writer, Andrew Solomon tells a story of an experience in Senegal where he tried a traditional treatment for depression. At one point of the day long ceremony, he was asked to repeat the following:
Spirits leave me alone to complete the business of my life and know that I will never forget you.
I like that quote. It captures both my reticence towards gazing backwards for too long and my conviction that remembering is a gift. I found the musical celebration below after I’d written about Miriam above, but ending with it helps say what I’m trying to say. We may tell our stories with tears but telling them dares us to dance.