As the semester draws to a close, and I relinquish this 3-by-40-inch space of your consciousness, let us come full circle. Maybe it is time we think again on why we tell stories in the first place.
What has been the relevance of the myths, children’s stories and fables that have been plucked from the past this year? Every one, of course, has its unique grain of relatability in these our modern lives; Icarus’ flying too high, perhaps, or a millennial good Samaritan wandering the streets. What, though, is the purpose of this trove of tales in itself?
Months ago, I tried to convince you that our lives are full of old stories; that the experience of being a person in the world, despite the great shifts of medicine, technology and globalization, hasn’t changed all that much. But perhaps connecting with the past is only half the battle. These stories seek not only to unite us with the ancestors that blazed out long before we arrived. They seek to join us with the people that exist now, and to show us that we are a part of something larger — something still breathing.
And if all these stories do is clue us in to where we fit, are they really so different? A man named Joseph Campbell argued all stories are really the same, fitting into a form he called the “Monomyth”. A hero hears a call to adventure. This, in turn, prompts a series of helpers, gifts and weapons that enable the hero to cross the threshold into this brave new world. After facing a series of tests, the hero at last reaches the final battle, after which he must return to the everyday world. He does, however, come home with an “elixir;” whatever knowledge or experience gained throughout his journey that remains with him even after his return.
Now, some stories start in the middle of this process or leave it unfinished. Some skip steps or disorder them, but even our still-unwritten autobiographies may be pressed into this mold. We are, to some degree, all on the same trajectory; here between the bookends of birth and death, we are not getting to where we are going alone.
Of course, it isn’t all Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. There are vast differences in life experience everywhere you look. There are the young and the old, the rich and the poor and, in our globalized world, even he who picks the banana and he who eats it. Beyond these objective differences, we are further isolated by the experience of being alone in the windowless rooms of our own minds. Everybody else is only what we may imagine them to be, and every bit of empathy we can muster comes only from our own idea of what something might feel like.
But has it become too cliche to think of what unites us? Here we are, somewhere on the lifeline between birth and death. Where we are all subject to the whims of the same sky and plant our feet on the same earth. Where we fall in love and give birth and grow old and allow the cycle to begin again. Every story merely explores some question of what it means to be alive.
Readers, we are all asking these questions and, with these words, may reach across time and space to find the places where our lifelines intersect. To paraphrase John Green, the only way we truly see each other is when there is a chink in your armor at the same place that there is a chink in mine, and, just for a second, you look out of your cracks and I out of mine, and the light can get in. We may look out of our minds and into someone else’s, and in doing so, these stories give a window for that windowless room. They transpose our experiences and layer our understandings, so we may recognize our call to adventure; so we may accept the help of our helpers and know what to do with the elixir we bring home.
Readers, I hope you will look for those windows; when you don’t want to grow up, or you lose someone you love, or you can’t stop thinking about what lies beyond the surface of your particular ocean. I hope the knowledge that you are not alone in that, nor ever have been, will bring you peace.
We may end with one last story. It is a story of a girl named Pandora, whose curiosity was her call to adventure, whose test was not to open the box. Pandora, who lost her final battle with her will, opened the lid of a box that set free a horde of pains and maladies upon the world. She did slam the lid before hope, our final weapon, could escape. She left only one elixir for us to fight the evil she released.
In theatre productions of Peter Pan, when Tinker Bell lies dying, Peter asks the children of the audience to clap if they still believe in fairies. The magic force of their belief always saves her.
Dear readers: Clap your hands if you still believe in stories. The hope remains.
Nina Djukic writes the Friday column on the relevance of stories in life today. You can contact her at [email protected].