Now I know. And once again I can underscore a theme I’ve been pursuing ever since I received my cancer diagnosis six months ago: I am a lucky man. A very, very lucky man. I am lucky to have these fine and generous people in my life, people who helped me make my life. I am lucky to have learned from them. I am lucky because what each one of them individually as well as all of them collectively have given to me is more than a night of memories, more than the honor of being honored by friends I admire and respect and love, and more than the sum total of joyful noise we made together.
I am a lucky man because I have them – and my family has them and these stories – in our lives. As a result, our life has been made richer, more meaningful, more filled with poetry, narratives, laughter, humor, food, foolishness and song because of and through our relationships with those who came out last night (and some who couldn’t be there) so we could just be together, one more time, at least one more time.
What I heard last night was not only memorable and moving for the obvious reasons – I mean, how often in the fast traffic of this lifetime do we take the time and as a result come to know what passages of writing, what meaningful conversations, or even what seemingly “accidental” meetings were influential in shaping someone else’s life? Those revelations were priceless. Yet they were not the only important take-aways from what was, by all accounts, a “magical” evening.
Another important “take away” occurred when I was surprised by my own words being spoken by Lesa Lockford. Professor Lockford was reading from our mutual pal Ron Pelias’s paper, “Writing Moments in the Work of H. L. Goodall, Jr.” because Ron couldn’t be at our event. The words she read are taken from my book, Divine Signs: Connecting Spirit to Community (1996), and they say only this:
We seem programmed to acquire “languaging” and to use that capacity to link ourselves to each other and to our communities through stories, in much the same way as stars and planets are born to travel in a particular direction at a given speed.
Why did this passage strike me? There are two reasons and they are connected.
First, I was struck – again – by the implied relationship between the role of storytelling and its relationship – our relationship – to the stars. That struck me because I have been writing about that relationship in Final Draft with a much deeper dive into theoretical physics and religion, this time tied up together with the singularly weird but scientifically current notion that it is our stories – because stories reveal our meanings, our emotions, our imaginings and our understandings – that we contribute to the ongoing evolution of the Cosmos. And that perhaps that is why we humans, we who evolved from simple autotrophs into language users, and from there into homo narrans – humans as storytellers – are here.
Think of it this way: We may have arrived just in time to find that in the stories we tell, as well as through the stories we create, the clues to our next step forward in the giant mystery of us – of you and me – out here among the stars. Alastair MacIntyre’s memorable line “If you want to know who I am, first ask me what stories I am part of,” may well be only one part of a much larger equation that, following the insights of prize-winning physicists Paul Davies and Laurence Krauss, goes something like this: If you want to know why we are here, first ask what stories we are contributing to the Cosmos.”
Which brings me to my second point. That passage also reminded me that back in the early ‘90s, back when I working on the book that quotation came from, I already knew many of the people doing the tribute but had yet to meet many others. Together we used our stories, our relationships, to travel here together, to build a whole new community as well as a way of being – and writing – in our discipline, “in much the same way as stars and planets are born to travel in a particular direction at a given speed.”
In that moment of communal recognition brought about by Lesa’s reading of that quote, in my head all of us in that room became one with that larger purpose. What we were doing back then, and what we are doing now by making room for stories, is insisting on one of the truest notions in all of science: that not only is there a necessary relationship between the knower and what is made known, but that how we know through that relationship changes what we know.
Indeed, it changes the whole universe.
That is a large idea that will take all of us many years to figure it out. But back here on the blue planet, there were many other memorable moments from last night’s narratives that have imprinted a permanent love tattoo on my storytelling heart.
I will never forget the sound of three bells chiming during Elissa Foster’s invocation, the echoes reminding me of Christine Kiessinger’s reach into and defining of our sacred space.
Or how it was that Casing a Promised Land saved Chris Poulos’s ass.
Or Amira de la Garza’s call for the festschrift, Fed Ex box, big heart, and all …
Or Angela Trethewey’s very generous take on how I inspire a “better reality” but with the insistence that better reality includes “being your boss.” Who couldn’t love that one?
Or Patricia Geist Martin’s poem, “It’s as if … .” which took me back to those songs we all sang long ago …
Or Robin Boylorn’s lines from her “Open Letter to My Mentor” poem:
“i love you because you
gave me a microphone
put it to my mouth
and called forth my voice
and taught me how to speak
out loud and in public and on purpose and without apology …”
Or Eric Eisenberg’s “B is for Bud” but also for telling me that Casing a Promised Land and Living in the Rock n Roll Mystery are two of his favorite books, ‘cause I didn’t ever known that ‘til now.
Or Art Bochner and Carolyn Ellis jointly reading from my blog, particularly the Monty Python exchange … and us all singing (me badly) “I Get By With a Little Help from my Friends!”
Or Bill Rawlins rescuing us from the singing gods seeking revenge by using his fine voice to sing a song, a song he composed for me and about me, “You Hold Fast …” all because of one conversation …
Then the sweet impromptu lines from Chris Davis, Nick Trujillo, Marianne LeGreco, Anna Brown, Beth Goodier, and Tom Frentz …. And Karen Stewart, who created a video but we fail at technology and only got the music. And the amazing support, laughter, and love provided by the other members of the audience who did not choose to speak but in their own ways added to the overall magic.
All of which was made possible by the sheer will and energy of Lisa Tillmann, who not only put the session together and framed it with a lovely intro, but also gave it a theme – “The Buddy System” and related it to her success in overcoming a fear of drowning, suffocation, and “big fish.”
The Buddy System. I love the metaphor and all that it implies. So let me end this recap by saying that I am indeed proud, not just proud but honored and flattered and blessed that we entered that deep end of the narrative ocean together!
Please know that I cannot thank you enough for last night’s tribute. It was the highlight of my career, way beyond what I could ever expect as what Ron rightly calls “a misfit.” My simple thanks will never do. So, instead, please see me now smiling and cheering, and hear my whole family cheering and applauding, all of us a little teary-eyed but oh so happy, giving it up, giving it all we got, for you.