Finding Meaning Through the Stories We Tell


I was listening to the radio last week, as I often do on the commute to and from work. It was a dark, rainy night nearing the end of a very long, exhausting week. I was listening to All Things Considered and they were interviewing Yann Martel the author of Life of Pi, about his new book, The High Mountains of Portugal. What he said during his interview struck me as profoundly true.

In his new book, some of Martel’s characters are writers. One of them muses on why we are so drawn to stories and compelled to tell them:

A story is a wedding in which we listeners are the grooms watching the bride coming up the aisle. It is together, in an act of imaginary consummation, that the story is born. This act wholly involves us, as any marriage would, and just as no marriage is exactly the same as another, so each of us interprets a story differently, feels for it differently.

I really enjoyed hearing that, because it is how I have always perceived great stories. They find us just as much as we find them. When I’m engrossed in a story — whether as a reader or a writer — I’ve always had a sense that I’m discovering something for the first time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short story I’m working on a 100-year-old novel; I bring a piece of myself to the story. My experiences add to the narrative in, as Martel says so eloquently, an act of imaginary consummation.

Later in the interview, Martel muses on the importance of stories to us as human beings:

I think that speaks to who we are as a species. Our understanding comes through stories, are exemplified through stories, are understood through stories.

We are storytelling creatures. It is through the telling and hearing of stories that we learn about our world and probe the mystery of our existence. Throughout my life, I’ve found it to be true that stories help us construct meaning for our lives. That’s why I do it.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. His short stories have appeared in Creative Colloquy. You can join his mailing list for exclusive content and follow him on Twitter.

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