September 15 – Questions Put to the Sick – III – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

When was the last time you told your story? Question put to the sick by a Native American Medicine Man

Stories are like little time capsules. They carry pieces of truth and meaning over time. Whether it is a myth from 4,000 years ago or your own untold story from childhood, the meaning waits like a dry ration; only by the next telling does it enlarge and soften to become edible. It is the sweat and tears of the telling that bring the meaning out of its sleep as if no time has passed. It is the telling that heals.

Often we repeat stories, not because we are forgetful or indulgent, but because there is too much meaning to digest in one expression. So we keep sharing the story that presses on our heart until we understand it all. I remember my first fall in love, how deep the fall and how painful the landing. When it was over, when she left me for other loves, I was devastated. Throughout my college days, my sadness was a wound that needed air, and each telling of my story—though even strangers grew tired of hearing it—each telling of her sudden eyes and her sudden leaving was a stitch that healed the wound in my heart.

And when my mother-in-law lost her husband of fifty-five years, when I sat with her two weeks later, after all the flowers and speeches, she stared into that moment of his passing and told me over and over of his last breath and of finding him slumped in his chair. At first I thought her adrift, but realized this was how she was trying on the meaning of her grief. Like a shaman or monk, she was chanting the mantra of her experience until its truth was released.

Imagine how many times Paul told the story of being knocked off his horse by God. He did so, most likely, because with each telling, he was brought deeper into revelation. Or how many times Moses told of his meetings with God. He did so, I imagine, because, with each telling, he saw God more clearly. Or how many times Lazarus told of being brought back to life by Jesus. He did so, no doubt, because with each telling,he was brought deeper into his reawakening.

The truth is that though we think we know what we are about to say, the story tells us and saves us, in the same mysterious way that breathing is always the same but different.

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