An old story about my grandfather came to my mind last night, and it made me want to write a blog post about it. Something that I’ve learned after years of writing a daily blog is that my actual memory pales in comparison to the volumes I’ve written (in fact, that’s kind of the point), so I habitually check to see if I’ve written about things before whenever I want to write about something from the past instead of a current thought. Turns out, I had written about this already (of course).
My father repeated his best stories often. Of course, he had a million stories to begin with and he was a phenomenal teller of these tales, so I never minded. In fact, I’d even get upset if someone else interrupted a story I’d heard a thousand times – I was enraptured by the telling. There was humor and wisdom in these stories. And part of me knew that there was something special about the way I was hearing them, something that couldn’t be duplicated even as we recorded his best ones.
I’m glad we did, but I don’t let those recordings replace retellings. When my own children need to hear those stories, I won’t dig through old videos to find them. Those videos are for me, for my nostalgia, for my homage to one of the greats. But for my children, I’ll retell the stories myself. I’ll say, “One time, your Pop-pop…” and go from there. Because the power of these stories is the telling, the connection, the questions they raise and the answers I’ll give. It’s in the inspiration to go make new stories, by living a life worthy of retelling.
My own benchmark for whether or not I was living a good life was always whether or not that life generated things I’d want to tell my father about. If something happened and I immediately thought “I can’t wait to tell this to Dad…” then I knew things were going– well, not always well, but at least According To Plan, in some sense. The way of the world was as it should be.
Now, that same benchmark still exists, but it’s whether or not I’d want to tell my kids. They’re old enough for real stories now, and I love telling as much as they love listening. My dad’s own father passed away before my dad had any kids himself, so for him, that threshold was forced. He never got to make the decision whether or not a story should go up the generational chain or down it. My transition had more overlap – all of my children got to meet their grandfather, got to know him, got to build an understanding of the power of those stories. He trained them to listen to old stories, to hang on those words waiting for a punchline or a moral or just the joy of hearing. Now they listen to me like they listened to him. Like I listened to him.
Power in the old stories. Never stop telling them. I write mine here just like I tell them, but don’t ever let this be the only way they exist. If you’re (somehow) reading this fifty years from now, don’t just read it. Go find my kids, and their kids, and maybe their kids – and listen to the stories yourself. They’ll be better, I promise.