Once upon a time… Magic words because they signal the beginning of something special – a story is about to be told. According to Wikipedia this phrase has been used in some form since at least 1380 and was the traditional opening for “oral narratives” by 1600. Wikipedia lists equivalents in about 60 languages (Habia una vez, Es war einmal, Il était une fois, and Hapo zamiani za kale for example) and includes two modern variants. (“A long, long time ago” from the song “American Pie” and “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” from the “Star Wars” movie, in case you were curious.) But in any language, these words are the doorway to another world or another way of seeing our world. It’s a form of magic.
I’m the oldest cousin in my family and when I was in college, I had the opportunity to listen to the youngest cousin tell a story. Chris was old enough to be walking and making lots of noise, but he didn’t have any words yet. And yet he told us a story. He told us the same story multiple times, same series of sounds, same inflections, same body language – lots of body language. We didn’t get all of the details, but it was very clear that he was very excited and happy and he wanted us to share in his joy. He had a story to tell.
Some people are natural storytellers. Some people are professional storytellers. But all of us have stories to tell even if sometimes we’re lacking all of the necessary vocabulary. There are many ways to tell stories. Sometimes we use data, and there are some of us who use the language of numbers with great facility. Some stories are best told in pictures, some stories are told in songs, some in poetry. The only limits are our imagination and our ability to make ourselves understood. Sharing our stories is a way to be known by the people around us. Listening to other people’s stories is a way to know them.
Who gets to hear your stories? It’s also important that we pay attention to whose stories aren’t being told, aren’t being heard. I hope we’re all finding ways to bring more stories into the world, it’s a method of opening the doors to other worlds and other ways of understanding our world – isn’t that what education is all about? Poet Muriel Rukeyser says, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” I’m not going to argue that with the physicists, but I have no doubt that our world is, in fact, made up of stories and that sharing them is magic. I hope you’re finding ways to share your stories with others.
PS. I was attending TACUSPA this weekend and got in late last night, so it was time for a rerun. This is based on an essay for the UTSA Student Affairs Newsletter in October 2009.