Stories that tell us stories

photo by Kevin Meredith

When my grandfather tells me a story about how he saved his platoon in the second world war, and teaches me his mother’s bread sauce recipe (explaining that, although there is always a full, untouched bowl at the end of Christmas dinner, it is crucial the tradition be maintained), he is doing more than telling me stories. He is teaching me about myself. What does it mean to be me? What kind of a person does he hope I will continue to become? Sacrifice, tradition, honor, loyalty… the meta-narrative that underlies the stories told in my family. It doesn’t matter the stories are not precisely true. Feelings are what matter, not fact. Culture is what he is giving me, not history. Mythology is as crucial an element in the formulation of our identity now as it ever was. We are getting much worse at capturing those stories, though. A project I’m working on right now hopes to make it easier for families to discover, share, and explore their culture – finding the hidden links between people and places, stories and events. Think “Hero with a thousand faces” meets MySpace. More later.