“The good news is that the heat seems to be exhausting our five million grasshoppers. Wait, let me back up…”
I was around nine years old, barefoot and in the middle branches of Mom’s mulberry tree, right there on the west edge of the house against our neighbors’ driveway. My hands were stained black with the wonderful inky juice, my skin brown from summertime and my hair probably tangled in the back. I was worried that something deep and important was wrong with me because I could never figure out the correct beginning of any story. I was fundamentally flawed, though I didn’t know the word fundamental yet.
I marveled at how people could just dive in and tell any story fluidly, discerning with confidence how to begin the tale and what details to include. To me, to my nonstop thoughts and conveyor belt lines of questioning, every beginning was really just the middle or end of something else, everything was very literally connected. Nothing, not even in fiction books, had a believable and well formed boundary.
It’s why I still have trouble telling stories. I never know where to start. What history can be excluded, can just be trimmed away as if it didn’t happen, as if it doesn’t matter any more.
What details matter not just to me, but also to the listener or reader? What details would be missed, if I attempted some economy? What precious context supplies the understanding that makes all the difference?
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and no man is an island. We all affect each other, and we are all affected by each other. That’s not a flaw; it’s part of our wonderful design.
As for how you tell me stories, tell me everything. Leave nothing out. I want to hear it all, even if it barely seems relevant. I want to understand the background stories, the moods and flavors, the weird implications, the spider webs of complicated stories that led up this exact moment.
The grasshoppers are numerous, but they are slowing under the weight of Oklahoma summertime. And the tomatoes are thriving. Tonight we ate a pretty delicious galette made with a few of those tomatoes plus fresh garden basil and a parmesean-cornmeal crust.
And we sat with and loved on our friends whose story is changing. Not suddenly, and not in a vacuum. I do not grasp where it begins, really, and maybe they don’t either. Tonight, though, we have this part of it, of this one part of a big and complicated story that is far from over. This moment in a continuum, this chance to do the next right thing.
I very much wish that someone would have told me, at nine, barefoot in that mulberry tree, that it’s ok to not know where a story begins. No one knows. We just get to dive in right where we are and pour ourselves out lavishly.
“You never know how hard it will be.
You never know when it will end.
You can’t control it.
You can only adjust. And, he added,
No one gets through it on their own.“
~Angel, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall