His First Story

Her belly tightened. She inhaled, sharply–a reflex–and rubbed her palms over her abdomen. As the tightening subsided, she breathed again. But the next wave hit her before she could get off the couch to find the phone.

This was Ellie’s first pregnancy, and she wasn’t due for three more weeks. She’d insisted Matthew go to Chicago, kissing him out the door that morning as the winter’s first snowflakes fell on the car behind him. And it hadn’t stopped snowing yet.

It’s all new to us …

Giving birth or handling any emergency sets our actions into automatic motion. We run out of gas on a deserted road. Our elderly parents aren’t answering the phone–in another state. While hiking, we come upon a bear.

What can we do, especially if the situation is a new one for us?

Or is it? 

Our brains’ database searches for stories we know. Whether in a book or a movie or a family story, we’ve learned from others’ experiences and this is why–to help us in similar situations.

Stories empower us.

Let’s do this …

We become participants in story as we read or watch or listen. We experience what the characters experience–biologically. Our brain lights up in the same areas as if we had been the character ourselves.

Birth stories teach us about miracles and strength.

Coming-of-age stories show us how difficult it can be to grow up while we discover with the protagonist that we, too, are unique and strong.

Love stories give us hope that there is someone for us, someone who understands us and accepts us for who we are.

Adventures allow a safer way to feel the thrill of events for those of us who might not put skydiving or war or swimming with dolphins on our bucket list but might like to try certain thrills.

Mysteries, crime, science fiction, historical and more have their own flavors, and since we all are different, provide us with stories that appeal to our own tastes.

Even contemporary fiction has a wide range to give us a glimpse into different cultures than we are in. Socioeconomic, gender, race, and religion differences–to name a few–blur in the pages of story.

Family stories told around the dinner table or at family gatherings tell us not only where we came from, but inspire us with what our ancestors have overcome.

Ellie’s story

Even though Ellie was alone, she was also the youngest sister of four. She’d listened to her sisters’ and many friends’ birth stories. She’d read, not just childbirth books, but also birth stories, and she knew what to expect.

But more importantly, her brain knew she could do it. Again, or so it thought.

Once she knew her midwife was on her way in her four-wheel drive Subaru, she called Matthew. Together–Matthew from his hotel room, Miss Cassie beside her–they encouraged Ellie as she labored to give birth to her first. But because of the stories she already held on to, she knew she could do it.

Hours later in the early dawn hours, she rocked her newborn baby. She stroked his soft cheek. And she told him his first story.

What’s the first story you can remember? Do you have a favorite type or genre of story?

Book Review

The Orphan Master’s Son, set in North Korea, by Adam Johnson is a literary tale about identity and story. The setting, plot, and characters captivate on their own level to bring us a story we can relate to.

Identity

Most of the major characters are unnamed or given a pseudonym. The main character never knows his real name and, in the first part of the book, chooses his own from a list of martyrs. He picks Pak Jun Do and goes by Jun Do (John Doe).

Sun Moon is the actress whose picture Jun Do gets tattooed onto his chest so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a spy, but that is not her real name. It is given to her by the dictator Kim Il Sung who discovers her. Her children have names but never tell them because “[n]ames come and go. Names change. . . A name isn’t a person. . . It’s you that matter, not your names.”

In the second part of the book, Pak Jun Do takes on the identity of another man, Commander Ga, whom he may or may not have killed in self defense. He moves from being the one  “steered by others” who is “trying to escape from their paths” to “a man who steps on the gas” when he puts on Commander Ga’s uniform, rides in his car, and moves into the house Ga had shared with the nation’s movie actress, Sun Moon.

Story

Story is the thread that stitches Jun Do’s narrative together. He is told early in the book that it doesn’t matter who you are in North Korea, all that matters is your story.

When Jun Do names the orphans (and himself), his choice is based on the martyr’s stories. With his kidnapper job, he hears a story (opera), and his spy job enables him to listen to the stories on the short-wave radio, his favorite part of his job.

Whenever a situation occurs that could prove dangerous, Jun Do and his fellow workers make up elaborate stories to share with the government agents who question them. The final part of the book is about an interrogator whose job is writing down people’s stories before erasing their memories with a special machine.  

Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking On Water states “to write a story is an act of Naming.” Jun Do starts out not knowing his real name, and, by the ending, he is back at that same place.

The government, in trying to extract his story from him, is unable to learn his identity. This powerful government which rules the lives of all its citizens is impotent.

 At the end of The Orphan Master’s Son, Jun Do approaches his lack of name as a changed man.

He embraces this reality because he has written his own story of who he is.

Now he is his story. And he is named.  

 

“Do You (Still) Love Him?”

 Love and marriage go together in our culture like salt and pepper or shampoo and conditioner. So what happens when the love disappears? Often that means the couple lets the marriage go. But does that make good sense?

If you ran out of conditioner, would you refuse to shampoo your hair? If you ran out of salt, wouldn’t you still add pepper to make your soup taste better?

rosemary garlic pork chops or burgers?

It might take ten years for the loving feeling to change. Or two. Suddenly (or gradually) the wife sees only his shortcomings. Or he finds himself focusing on how she’s changed in ways he didn’t imagine. Oh, no, she not only is beginning to look like her mother but now she acts like her, too.

She realizes they don’t have much in common other than their house and children. For entertainment, he likes to watch or play sports, and she reads or goes to the movies. Even his preference for plain meat and potatoes opposes her desire to cook gourmet meals. Opposites.

me or us?

Without the softening of love, one spouse simply irritates the other.

“Love covers a multitude of sins” is true in marriage. Love filters our spouses’ many imperfections.

Can a marriage survive if the love is gone? Can a couple get the love back so they can be happy in their marriage and as individuals?

fighting and starving equals love?

In the play Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye asks his wife of many years, “Golde, do you love me?” Golde sings back, “Do I what?” She refuses to answer him, replying he’s stressed out with all the turmoil in their family and town.

Tevye asks her again. Golde reminds him she’s washed his clothes, cooked his meals, helped in the family business, and given him children for all the years they’ve been together. She doesn’t think it’s necessary to talk about something like love in that light.

He asks again. She replies, “I’m your wife.” Then she thinks aloud about how they lived, fought, starved, and made love together, ending with “if that’s not love, what is?”

feel or act?

Although Fiddler on the Roof was set in the early 1900s and our ideas about love and marriage have changed, their values are still relevant today.

Tevye talks about love as a feeling; Golde refers to love as action. They know marriage is a mixture of good feelings and the right actions.

Because love is both.

Sometimes we act loving even when we don’t feel like it only because we chose the other person. So we do the right thing regardless of what we really want to do.

surf’s up!

Feelings are like the tide. High tide and low tide, but as long as the moon (our action) is in the sky, low tide gives way to high again. So we can ride the emotions when they are strong, and hasten them back when they are low.

Because even though they are just feelings, like Tevye and Golde tell us “it doesn’t change a thing, but after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.”