The Narratives We Need, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Recently I sang Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the Seattle Symphony. In his adaptation of The Requiem, Britten juxtaposes Wilfred Owen’s poetry with the Latin mass. The male soloists sing Owen’s poem “The Parable of the Old Men and the Young,” the story of Abraham and Isaac, right up to the angel and the ram. But in Owen’s poem, Abraham kills Isaac, “and half the seed of Europe one by one.”

Turning an ancient story on its head, using a corrupted Old Testament story to represent the terror of the world wars, is horror at an elemental level. The depth of this horror shows how much our stories are knit into our bones; ripping a story apart rends us in two. How much then, must these stories be making us whole?

I believe in being intentional. But I wonder at our desire to make our own decisions about what these formational stories should be—to suppose our individual sensibilities might do better than centuries of a more collective wisdom—instead of holding ourselves accountable to discerning the wisdom in the stories that make us up. [Read more...]

The Narratives We Need, Part 1

“Tell me a story,” my son has started to say after reading his bedtime books. The first time he made the request, I looked at him as I don’t do often enough, seeing the soft cheeks and hands already changing so fast for his three years, blue eyes looking at me with trust more complete than I could understand anymore. I looked at him with awe, awe for who he was, that he was, that somehow I had been given such a gift without deserving, and such responsibility.

“Tell me a story…” The first time he asked I was charmed; a moment later I felt a flash of panic.

The stories of childhood sink deep, said Kim Todd. “Each word falls like a stone to the muck at the bottom of the mind, unimpeded by currents of distraction or critical distinctions.”  These are the stories that will inform our lives, help us write the narratives of our lives, frame our experience, give us direction for grief. [Read more...]

The Mystery Inside Me

For the past nine months, I feel like I’ve been at a standstill. A place in which I have no words, nothing to describe what is happening to me, and in me.

In six weeks, I am due to give birth to my first child, a son, and although I have had flashes of deep joy and extreme fear (often occurring in the same day), what has marked my life as an expectant mother the most is this sense of complete, undeniable uncertainty. For the first time in my life, I have no idea what to expect; I have no game plan, no hook of events upon which to hang doubts and anticipations.

All I know is that this little boy, whose feet twist into my ribs even as I write, is coming.

Labels have always been a source of comfort for me. As a child, I collected the flimsy certificates that teachers handed out at the end of the school year, the ones that said Top Achiever, Super Star, Best in the Class. When I moved onto my college campus, I introduced myself to classmates with a vigorous wave and the following words: “Hi, my name is Allison, and I want to be a high school teacher.” [Read more...]

How Shall I Answer If God Calls My Name?

Here I am. Out of place. The computer terminal asks for my borrower’s card ID. I don’t have a borrower’s card for this library: Cherry Hill Public Library.

Once, I did. But it’s gone now, burned in a fire at my parents’ house decades ago, or packed in some unlabeled box on a shelf in the furnace room of my house in Asheville.

 

Here I am: in the library of my youth. Here, in my first years of discovering poetry, I scanned the 800s, slid The Poetry and Prose of William Blake from its place, considered its heft, added the title to the eternal list of books to read one day, one day outside of time, and restored it unopened to its exact location in Dewey’s rational universe. [Read more...]

Before the Fall of Baseball

As a child, school did not rank high on my priority list, which meant my report cards led my parents to believe that, intellectually, I was probably about as dense as a baseball.

While watching a Kansas City Royals game on TV with my father one day, however, I made the mistake of reciting the batting averages of a few players from memory. After verifying the statistics using the career information on my baseball cards, my parents realized—much to their consternation, of course—that I lacked not smarts, but the will to apply myself in school.

I could never coast through class again. But the experience did confirm something for my parents, and somewhat paradoxically: While I was not as thick-headed as they thought, I did have a baseball for a brain. I thought of little besides America’s favorite pastime in those days. [Read more...]


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