Dr. Grauer's Column - The Story At The Heart
The Story At The Heart
“Songlines are guides for travelers who have no choice but to pass through unknown and harsh territory, who hope to arrive safely.”
– Meg Wheatley
We need a really good story right now, I hear. So, how about the story of that time called now.
It was a time that sent ripples throughout my life, a great story. It is the year that sounded interesting, and we were making up stories for it before it even began: 2020, the year of perfect vision, of foresight.
We innocently creep in. Look around. Waiting to see what is developing. What is up its sleeve? Three months in, in March, here in the United States, orders are coming for us all to stay inside. We are to avoid almost everyone. We are relegated to our private rooms and homes. Businesses close—we enter grocery shops with bated breath, almost afraid to breathe or to touch. In my case, along with many reading this, I am unable to go to my school. I am cut off from most of everything and everyone I care about most. None of us can see ahead in 2020.
In May, a man is suffocated to death by the police, captured on a YouTube feed as he pleads an anthemic, “I can’t breathe,” and now none of us with any conscience can breathe, either. The weeks unfold, the story unfolds, too. Without sight, without breath, we are going to press on, we just are.
Our school’s motto is “learn by discovery” and, there in quarantine, there in isolation, often alone in a room, each of us grows to discover more of our own selves and develops new aspirations. We become warriors. The human spirit needs our protection.
Many years ago, a popular children’s book I read to my classes was “Choose Your Own Adventure,” and here we are again. With all normal, presumed pathways removed, we realize: we have to write a new story. But wait, weren’t we writing it anyway, we just were waiting for it to be written for us: wasn’t it the year 2020? But now we see this: the story is not going to write itself, not for us!
We read. We study literature. We take enormous comfort in the story. The story bathes and envelopes and comforts us, all we need to do is keep reading. Aesop will reveal the fable, Taylor Swift will reveal the romantic twist, Shakespeare will reveal the tragedy, Dave Chapelle will reveal the punchline. But wait, now we are in the middle of this story and the ending is not written. Now, is a time to choose our adventure, envision a big reveal.
Now, the temptation is undeniable: Wouldn’t it be comforting for me to write a story, right here, and to take you home. Wouldn’t I love to. And so here is it: the story is an ask. The story is:
What I Will Tell My Grandchildren About the Great Pandemic of 2020?
What values guided us? What songline was I following?
Parents write to our faculty weekly asking for resilience and things like hope and courage and passion for their children: Can we write that for them? It is already there, essential, for the awareness.
In many cultures, through many histories, people who focus their lives and work on making a difference are called warriors. The Great Pandemic helps us become more like this, but it is making comics out of some, stress cases out of some, surfers out of some, and stagnated people out of others. The plot action is rising and we find fear and exhaustion and despair and abiding faith, and generosity and kindness and creativity.
“What will you do with this one precious life?”
- Mary Oliver
Now, we can see less. Maybe even breathe less, but what will we do? True, there are limitations, even crises, and tragedies, and that makes my choice-making simpler. Is that a terrible thing to say?
In my story, this morning is strangely windy and blustery—we normally do not get this early morning weather in my part of the world. So, I cannot go surfing. Or at least will not.
Would I rather go surfing? Wrong question! What needs doing? That’s better. What if I write a story that opens up a world of possibility for some and frustrates or angers others? And for your part, you pick. It is your story. This much I know, so far: left on its own, your story offers no ending, and no advice, no moral, only desired paths.
So: Here is your story of what we learned in the great pandemic of 2020, what we shall pass on to our grandchildren. Let us tell it. I will be happy if you send it to me, or to anyone. I will finish yours, if you finish mine. You, there alone in your room, tell it …or have it be told. What will you do with this precious life?
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