Stories are all we have

This week, I met with a group of new students to talk about what is meant by “success.” They expected I would lecture them about things like time management, and they were surprised when I chose to instead talk about story.

I asked these students, who are studying to be nurses, engineers, computer programmers (and many other professions) to consider what they’d most like their story to be, ten years from now. I asked them to think about their narrative so far, and further, I encouraged them consider, especially in this strange and difficult time that lies ahead for all of us, that every other person in the world also has a story.

I read to them from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby:

Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and prisons out of them… To love someone is to put ourselves in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story… Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop.

It seems to me that change has arrived not like an ambulance but like a tumor erupting to the surface of public consciousness. It’s vitally important just now to remember that we each have a story, and we can refuse to allow any one person’s story to be invalidated. Racism, for example, is a complex and hateful set of complicated, intertwined stories the powerful tell about Others to the rest of the world. Sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia are stories, often composed of outright lies, fabrications sewn together from a patchwork of misunderstanding, fear and willful ignorance.

It seems paramount that we tell our stories and support #ownvoices storytelling. Today, to me, it feels like survival, what resistance looks like. It seems imperative that we make art to share stories of what the future can be.

This is not a new idea. Marginalized voices have been saying this, for a very, very long while. When stories are suppressed and rendered invisible, replaced with lies, people with bodies in the real world are cut off from opportunities, suffer, bleed and even die.

Let’s fight back by telling our stories, reading stories, sharing stories. Because I really think that in the end, they’re all we have.