Musing

A Story Worth Telling

September 26, 2011

Stone stories, Tucson, AZ
Recently, one of my students sat down next to me, shook her head and said “You know, it seems most memoirs are about people who had a terrible childhood.” She declared she didn't have a bad childhood and maybe she didn’t have much to write about. But everyone who had ever heard her stories knew that was far from true. She has written wonderful pieces, stories about standing up to her teachers, rebuffing an overly amorous fifteen year-old suitor,and engaging in a battle of words at the dining room table in childhood home. They are the stories of of a child making her way through the world.

The things we feel called to write about in memoir are all different. True, a second grade teacher who makes a student feel dumb is not as terrible as an abusive parent. But does that mean it is any less worthy to write about? There was something about the incident with that teacher that made her remember, made her want to tell the story of how she stood up for herself, to not give in to forces that told her she was less than who she knew she was.

Her story was, in essence, the story of a survivor, a girl who survived with her sense of self-worth intact. It is exactly the same kind of story that survivors who have endured more horrific offenses write. A hero’s journey can take many forms. We cannot compare our lives to others. Nor should we. As Flannery O’Connor said, “Anyone who has survived childhood has enough material for the rest of her life.” Sometimes we forget what an amazing feat it is simply to have made it this far.