Christmas 2017: the stories we told and the stories we heard

Christmas 2017: the stories we told and the stories we heard
"Hear My Story" by Jordan Nielson Used with permission of a Creative Commons License, which you can find here

My husband and I volunteered to wash dishes from Christmas dinner. My sister- and brother-in-law made an amazing meal for 12 people, two of whom are vegetarian.

My daughter and I are used to eating the sides and not worrying about a substitute for stuffing or turkey and ham. My in-laws took a different approach and provided the most amazing vegetarian feast alongside the traditional fare.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people work harder for a more wonderful meal, and we instantly jumped to the task of clearing and washing. It was the least that we could do.

We and a few others loaded the dishwasher and when we ran out of room started washing glasses and flatware and pans and casserole dishes in the sink. As I was cleaning the stove—and I have to admit that I love that kind of cleaning—we began talking about jobs we’ve had. Among our group was a caterer, a candy factory cleaner, and a dishwasher. 

I was the dishwasher at a summer camp when I was a teenager. I did other things, too, but I was chief dishwasher. Early on I remember losing control of the sprayer, watching in horror and then in giddy fun, as it sprayed the kitchen.

I loved that job. It was my first realization that I was capable of hard work and persistence and that I took pleasure in both. So, I mentioned being a dishwasher with some pride.

My husband, as he dried another casserole dish said, “I never knew you were a dishwasher.”

It got me to thinking about the importance of stories and about their seeming infinity. You’d think that after 25 years of marriage we would have run out of them.

We need stories because they tell us who we were and are. They root us, shape us, connect us one to the other.

For Christmas I gave my niece the first volume of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, “The Book of Dust,” a companion to “His Dark Materials” trilogy. I gave it to her because of a story she told me that made me proud and helped me to know her better.

Pullman’s trilogy was controversial, especially among Christians. When she was 15 or so, she was reading “The Golden Compass” while waiting for her English class to begin at a private, Christian-affiliated school

Her teacher came in, saw her reading and said, “You are not allowed to read that book.” My niece, a polite and self-possessed young teenager, said, “My parents determine whether or not I can read a book.” 

They came to an agreement that she could read the book “on her own time” and not inside the classroom. Niece 1.5 points and Teacher .5. Not bad for a 15 year old who believes in free expression.

When she opened the present she looked a bit surprised. She most definitely wanted the book, but she was surprised that I’d know that. I remembered the story but she did not. More precisely, she remembered it only vaguely. In contrast, it made a big impression on me. I see her now, in her 20s reading scripts professionally, and I still see that strong, straight-forward young woman.

We have so many stories and can’t tell them all. But when we hear someone else’s story and when they hear ours, we help each other understand ourselves and the world around us. What are we to each other but stories? What are we to ourselves but stories?

Raising a glass to Christmas 2017, the stories we told and the stories we heard.

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Filed under: Personal Essays, Writing

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