Okay merpeople, welcome back to class. Now let’s all sit down on our carpet squares and listen to a story…
Once upon a time, there was a girl (okay, a 37 year-old girl) who, like the rest of the world, had a long, weird summer. A summer full of politics and pandemics, of social distancing and social media frenzy, of uncertainty and hilarity and utter exhaustion...This story sound familiar to anyone?
But as this girl looks back on an unprecedented summer, what she sees scattered across the calendar pages are stories. So many stories. A summer built entirely of stories: Comedies (and a few tired tragedies) created inside the walls of her own home; exotic tales spun on the daily by her own personal band of Amazonian warrior women (aka the West Works Theatre Board); anecdotes sent from the mobile devices of good friends holed up in their homes; and personal sagas shared in quiet moments by her brothers and sisters. Ordinary people--her people--building stories of goodness (dare I say greatness?) in their lives. And she remembers the words of the great Bard:
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”¹
How deeply that line hits this girl: “All the world’s a stage.” This year, more than any other, the world feels like a stage, where a tragicomedy is playing out in monthly--sometimes weekly-acts, each act more preposterous than the last. A hyperbole of human performances. And the world feels darker as each scene plays out.
And yet, within this interminable play, the players. Oh, the players! She sees a mother work through the lonely aftermath of a miscarriage in quarantine. She sees a tired soul meet themself face-to-face in the quiet rooms of addiction recovery. A woman sewing hundreds of masks for others. A ninety-two year old teaching her great grandson how to play the trumpet. A team of women building a palace out of a gravel pit. Weddings performed online. Funerals borne in silence. Strangers united in protests. Parents becoming teachers overnight. The roles are as varied as the storylines, and each one leaves its mark--an uproar of laughter, a sigh of relief, a deafening silence--on this audience of one. And with each story, the darkness of the year ebbs away, and the light seeps in.
We are made of stories, my humans. We drink them, breathe them, run from them, make love to them. And hopefully, hopefully, in the end, we learn to own them. The ones that are truly ours. And the morals we take from the stories of those around us. In Toni Morrison’s words, “Make up a story... For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul.”² It will take a lifetime to tell our stories, of course. But each day we have the privilege of choosing the parts we will play, choosing the lines we give, choosing the energy we emit to others. As Shakespeare says, all the world’s a stage, so step out there and use it. All of it. Light someone else’s dark year. Give me something to hope for in 2021. I believe in you, my merpeople. So it’s your turn. Tell me a story….
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993