Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Power of Narrative

Life was a little rough for young Grace and Mary, a bit hard-scrabble. Their stern father and their illiterate mother who kept to themselves weren’t like other parents. The girls sensed their classmates looked down on them. They were excluded from activities that make a girl feel prom-ish and girly. High school seemed like a club they were never invited to join. When it came time for them to leave home, they wanted to spare their little sisters the pain of not fitting in, so they decided to give the younger girls a parting gift.

Together the older girls made a totem. One night they invited their little sisters to join them in a meeting, saying it had to be a secret because their parents didn’t want outsiders knowing about the family. “We’re going to tell you our history,” Grace said. With great ceremony the older sisters began story weaving. “Our great-grandmother was the daughter of an important chief,” Grace said. Before Grace and Mary left, they told the younger girls of the strength and bravery of their great-grandmother. Of how she had cared for her people. Of how she had persevered no matter how hard life got for her.

Grace and Mary presented the girls with the totem. “Keep this to remember who you are and what blood flows in your veins,” Grace said. “Always, no matter what anybody says, know what you are capable of."

The stories worked as Grace and Mary had hoped they would. Full of confidence their younger sisters were cheerleaders and homecoming queens. They were joiners and leaders. They lived the happy life Grace and Mary dreamed about when they were in school.

Many years later, one of the younger girls, now a woman with children of her own, called Grace to tell her about the book the P.T.A. was using as a fundraiser. People had contributed stories about family origins, and their story, along with a picture of the totem, was featured. Wasn’t Grace proud?

“You can’t do that,” Grace said.

“It’s done,” said her sister. "Your copy is on the way."

Grace had never confessed the truth to the younger two. “After we left home, we never really talked about things with them. Mary and I were seekers, always exploring the edge. The younger two loved convention. They lived within ‘the box’ and excelled in it. Because we didn’t fit their mold, they were uneasy around us. It was as if we came from different worlds.”

1 comment:

Allyn Evans said...

You always make me think.