I believe in the healing of story. I think it’s good for people to talk it out. There is something clarifying, curative, restorative in the telling; some would call it “therapeutic.” Ernest Hemingway once said, “If he wrote it, he could get rid of it. He had gotten rid of many things by writing them.”
The act of sharing is good for the recipient, too. The hand-off from storyteller to listener is an exchange of trust and understanding. And more is imparted in that transaction than the story itself. Storytelling is gift-giving.
One night when I was very little my father sensed my being heavy-hearted. I can’t recall the reason for my gloom, but I remember standing in the kitchen while he asked me to tell him about it. “You can’t help,” I said. “Just tell me,” he said. So finally I revealed my burden, and he responded with some inconsequential advice, like “That’s too bad, but I’m sure it’ll all work out.”
But what he said next I will never forget: “When you hold something in and carry it by yourself, it can feel really heavy. But when you share it with me, there’s two of us carrying it and that makes it lighter.” He was right; it was true. I felt lighter, uplifted, liberated even.
Telling stories — like the one I just told — is in our nature, it makes us human. We tell stories over dinner, with wine, in dorm rooms late at night. It’s communal.
Storytelling — whether in person, over the phone or in a theater, whether fable, parable or myth — is a way of conveying truths much bigger than words alone can hold. And those stories help define us, remind us who we are — whether family, culture or institution.
All this is true of the stories in this magazine. Among all the other things we try to do here, we also provide the family dinner table where members come to tell their stories, to share their lives, to sort out meanings and misgivings. And people do come to us with stories. You might remember Patrick Murphy ’91 telling Margot’s story in our summer issue, or Peter Graham ’84 telling us about Eli, the little boy struck by a car.
This issue is filled with stories. The cover story celebrates a true Notre Dame icon — a giant in a kingdom of legends. Other stories may seem grim and gritty; one is especially graphic. They deal with death, with life passing, with that elemental desire for storytelling to make sense of those powers that affect us most deeply. And they also fulfill, with a tough but healing grace, this promise made by author James Carroll:
“The very act of storytelling, of arranging memory and invention according to the structure of the narrative, is by definition holy. We tell stories because we can’t help it. We tell stories because we love to entertain and hope to edify. We tell stories because they fill the silence death imposes. We tell stories because they save us.”
In a story the lost are retrieved, the fallen redeemed, the darkness lit and the tragic laced with humor. And the humanity we have in common can be at once offered up and sanctified.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.