Chris and Sarah are coming home on Saturday. Chris says they bring back many lessons, many stories.
These stories probably won’t be shared in one quick rush, but told in bite-sized, palm-sized snacks: small anecdotes and flashbacks. Also as a compilation of images. And we’ll hear reflections by the youth group at a worship service.
Each participant will come back with a unique series of memories and insights. It’s similar to when people witness an event, and are later interviewed to gather information. Sometimes they have conflicting descriptions of the characters and actions that took place. Overlapping and different perspectives. Partial recollections.
You’d have to interview everyone on the trip to gain a comprehensive idea of what Staten Island has meant to the youth and adults. And yet, all those words cannot touch reality, can they? Only immersion into the environment itself, and having been connected to it — feeling it in skin and soul — could truly transmit the full impact of their experiences.
Yet we cannot all experience each others’ journeys. So we tell stories. It’s how we connect.
In the poem Liketown, Chuck Rybak challenged the word like itself. And perhaps the poet calls us to be real … just to be, rather than to be our own stories.
Because it’s something in the water,
I’m, like, so sick.
Because he’s scavenged the last
of his barren-cupboard dreams
He’s like, so hungry …
… you’re not like bored,
you are bored—you’re not like so pissed,
you are so pissed.
You’re not a simile for your own life—
you are your own life.
I would debate this with the poet. We are both simile and self. We are our own stories as well being as our own living, breathing individuals.
Language and stories have their place. They give us power and voice. They educate and express. They communicate and connect.
I’m looking forward to my family’s return. I want to touch and welcome home the real people: my husband and daughter in the flesh.
Yet I also crave their stories … their abstraction of their time apart, and everything they can share about it, so it feels immediate and tangible and meaningful to me, too. Even though I wasn’t with them, they’ll color their tales with the week’s plots and dramas.
The places and people with whom they interacted all returned home with them. They are changed. They tell new tales. They feel a little different inside their own skins.
Yes, we are both. We are ourselves, and our stories about ourselves.