|"Disheveled Saint," by Brian Kershisnik|
Today is the national day on writing. So here are my thoughts about why writing matters: Story is the heart of writing, and stories are the food we live on from the time we are very young. They are the crumbs dropped from the beaks of our mothers into our open, eager mouths as we nestle into our pillows and words flow over us, creating strange images in our minds and mysterious stirrings in our souls. These stories become a part of us and create our worldview. Each life is a story composed of all the stories that have fed it. When I was young, I would ask my mother to tell me stories, and she would. When she was tired, she would say this: “I’ll tell you a story of Jack and Norie, and now my story’s begun. I’ll tell you another of Jack and his brother, and now my story is done.” And I would groan. “Please, mom.” And she would smile and kiss my forehead. Now I am a father, and when I am tired, I tell my children very short stories—one sentence stories about the births of butterflies or the flights of whales or the smells of gardens. And sometimes they groan. And sometimes they smile. A story does not have to be elaborate, but we are creatures that crave narrative.
One of my favorite writers suggests that perhaps God invented time so that there might be narrative: creation, fall, atonement. Incarnation, resurrection, return. Hope and miracle. These are all stories. And stories connect us. They are a form of communion. In a very real way, we share stories. While I took the sacrament today, my son held up to my attention a piece of bread roughly the shape of Chile. It was the longest, biggest piece in the tray, and I could tell it felt like victory to him. He smiled and said, “Dad, do you remember the story of the Last Supper? It was Jesus’s last night and He broke the bread and gave them water.” (We are Mormons, and so we remember the wine as water, you know?) “Yep.” “And then He died.” “Yep.” “And do you remember the story of the five loaves of bread and the two fishes? Jesus fed five thousand people.” “Yep.” These are stories we share, of the bright, gentle Son of God wandering around the plains of Judea, feeding people. We ate these stories together, my son and I, as we chewed small pieces of bread and sipped from small cups of water.
We share the story of the young curious farm boy who wandered into the woods and cracked open the heavens, who talked with God and spent the rest of his life telling people that God wanted to talk with them, too. Who gave his life for his witness that God is not so different from us, or we are not so different from Him. This story made a people. We are part of that people. It continues to make us, to teach us our value in the eyes of the Holy One of Israel.
I tell my children stories so they will know me. One recent Sunday night I asked them if they wanted a mission story. “Yeah!” shouted my two oldest. “I want a fight story,” Oliver said. “Do you want a mission fight story?” I asked. “Yeah!” they all three said. I told them the story of one of my mission companions who grew up in Mexico City and whose brothers were car thieves for a living. He told how he sometimes rode in the backseat of the stolen cars as a young boy and how he remembered them speeding across the border into the Distrito Federal, being pursued by police officers. This companion’s name was Elliott, and he had seen some things, let’s say. The companion he had before me had said something Elliott didn’t like, and Elliott punched him in the face. That’s how he and I became companions. That was the fight I had promised to tell my children about. But the story was really about how much this kid taught me about love. We would get on our bikes and ride past all the houses and out through the countryside and stop on bridges and watch turtles sunning themselves on rocks. Some of my favorite memories of Mexico are those bike rides with Elliott, sunning ourselves like turtles on rocks. But when we went far enough out, we found very small communities of outlying people. And one day we knocked at the fence of a small house with a big yard and lots of chickens, and we met Claudia. She was blind and she had two daughters, and they craved the stories we told about God’s love and God’s attentiveness to human cries. About pillars of light and the warm voice of God. They were baptized and each week made the long journey to the church in the city to hear more of these stories. I left that area shortly after this. I did not speak Spanish very well then, and I did not think this little family would remember me. Elliott was the one who taught them the stories, really. Elliott was the one who loved them so very much. But about two years later, I returned to Mexico with my parents, and we drove a car out to the little fence around Claudia’s house and banged on the fence. Claudia came feeling her way out of the house. “Hola, hermana!” I cried. “Taggart?” she said, a smile slowly creeping across her worn face. “How did you know?” I asked. “How could I forget the voice of the boy who taught me the stories of God?” As I told my children this story, I cried. Six-year-old Emerson began to cry as well. And then Lydia. Oliver looked at us, and said, “Stop crying!”
So we write to tell stories. Because stories matter. Stories matter more than we can put into words. So we tell stories. And we write so that the stories do not die with us. We write to connect, to commune. That is why we write.