Small places in a large world
“A story is a garden you carry in your pocket. The stories we tell ourselves and each other are for pleasure and refuge. Like gardens they are small places in a large world. But…we must never mistake the stories we tell for truth.” – Alexandra Curry
Over 30 years ago in a Bible class, the teacher spoke of how big the truth is. Afterward, Jeff and I had a discussion on that assertion. Jeff said he had always thought of the truth as something narrow and well-defined. He belonged to a profession based on hard science and peer-reviewed research involving lots of double-blind studies. It was also his personality type; Jeff was much more skeptical than I am. I think he would have agreed with the caveat that, if we tell ourselves stories, we must not mistake them for the truth.
But I agree with that long-ago teacher. I think the truth is a big thing, so enormous that no human mind can fully grasp it. As such, I think stories, even totally imagined ones, contain grains of truth that may often be better illustrated by fiction than by bare facts. As Curry says, the stories we tell ourselves typically serve the function of adding joy to our lives and giving us refuge. They are not meant to be didactic, but they resonate with what we know of the truth, and they bring us humor and reassurance.
However, we also could tell ourselves stories that are not helpful. These tales might make people or events more evil or destructive than they actually are. We may re-invent the past to fit narratives that cast us in a better light, or make others the villains in a real-life drama that might be far more nuanced than we describe. Worse, we may convince ourselves that this self-serving version of events is the real one. So Curry’s point is well taken.
Having said that, I am immensely grateful for the power of stories, and I really like the analogy comparing them with portable gardens. Who among us does not enjoy escaping into a great novel, a well-produced film or an enthralling live theatrical production? The best of these stay with us, like a beautiful song or favorite memory, and shine brightly in the often drab reality of daily life. We may not have physical proximity to the sort of garden pictured above, but wherever we are, we can escape into a good story.
For those who have lived many decades, our memories are full of stories, like vast gardens with a wide variety of botanical rooms. Some are more colorful and verdant, some may be overgrown and ill-tended, and there will be those that bring more sorrow or regret than joy. But always we can find beautiful settings to enjoy, especially if we are willing to venture beyond our own story gardens, into those of our friends, and those that make up the great legacy left to us by authors, poets and artists of present and past centuries.
Today, let’s make it a point not to spend more time than necessary in desolate mental places. Let’s be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves, and choose hope. Our pockets are full of stories– gardens through which we can stroll for a soothing escape from whatever may be clouding our vision and worrying our minds. In the dreary days of late winter (or the parched, dry ground of late summer), these “pocket gardens” can transform our inner landscape. Feel free to share a favorite story with us here in the comments.