Making Sense of Stories

Paperback book cover illustration, I Know Why ...

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou. http://www.mayaangelou.com 

If you’ve ever read any of Maya Angelou’s books, you gain an incredible perspective into the courage of telling a life story.  “A bird doesn’t tell a story because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song,” she wrote in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of her autobiographical series.  Her books captivate with their beautiful prose and at the same time made me squirm with the honesty in which she recounts her life, particularly her days as a prostitute.  I’ve heard her speak live and it’s amazing — she brings her books to life with her spoken voice.

I thought of her courage this week as I heard two burn stories.  My friend Renee’s aunt, on an oxygen machine, lit a cigarette and suffered second degree burns over her face.  Within days, I heard the story of a teenager from the kid’s school, who bent over a stove and her scarf caught fire torching her chest and neck.  Both are in the hospital.

It’s hard not to think of their searing pain.  It’s harder not to think about how they and their families handle both the emotions and the re-telling of the stories.  I know from my own experiences that until I can put the emotional framework in place, I can’t tell a story.  It always takes time for the “shock factor” to process and events to become clear before a story unfolds.  I wonder if it was the same for Maya Angelou — that the time that passed before she told her stories gave her the perspective to truly see the context of the events.

Maybe this is just the way we tell stories.  Even this week we saw a glimpse of it with the Osama bin Laden storyline.  Quickly we learn the news – bin Laden is dead.  Then, the next day we receive a new update, a revision as the true facts become clearer – yes dead, but he had no human shield as previously reported.  Then, each of the next days of the week, we find out a little bit more – he has been hiding in plain sight, there are the makings of another terror plot, this time using the US rail road system.

Life comes at us in pieces and parcels.  It’s our job to make sense of it all.  It’s a big job.  Story telling might just bring it all together.

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings…..

I guess sometimes it takes a few good men to get a strong woman to talk about her feelings. First, one male reader of this blog suggested I write more about my feelings from these experiences. Within days, a second male reader suggested the same thing. Sheesh. They certainly picked up on one of my Achilles heels — feelings are not my favorite category. Here’s why: My mind took over and my feelings froze. My memory is that as I burned on that stove, there was a moment when it no longer hurt and I accepted that I was going to die. I could think clearly but didn’t feel anything anymore. Intellect first, feelings sometime later. Even now, when pain or emotional distress come my way, the pattern returns and I freeze. It makes me adept at “compartmentalizing” those pesky feelings. If and when I’m ready to make sense of the feelings part, I find I can go back hours, days, weeks or months later to open that emotional valise and address it. Or not. There are a lot of theories on delayed reactions like these and I have to work harder-than-the-average bear to connect hurt-to-feel. Anyone else experience something similar?