But that’s okay because the history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball. (from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli)
Today my church had our annual “Senior Sunday” service, which is all about the graduating high school seniors. We sing the songs they pick, say prayers and blessings over them, and give them all Bibles. During the presentation of the Bibles, each senior comes to the front of the room, one by one. Baby pictures are displayed alongside their senior pictures on the screens, and the youth minister reads out a little information about the student, including future plans, influential people, and–the part I like best–favorite church memories. These memories are almost always nothing more than a fragment, a brief mention of some trip or tradition, but I always feel a sense of the story looming in those sparse words.
Of course, I rarely know what those stories are, which is okay with me; I’m content to smile at the mystery. But I think what I like about it is that it reminds me of my own favorite memories from childhood. The things that my friends and I wrote on our Senior Sunday information sheets, and the stories that were retold in those few words among those of us who had experienced them, hidden in phrases and behind secret smiles and shared laughter.
This morning I was reminded of how the stories from childhood seem always to take on the quality of legend–both the ones we tell about our experiences and the ones our families tell about us. Superlatives are liberally peppered into the story. Commonalities and coincidences become miraculous. And somehow the tale’s capacity to entertain is never diminished, even when retold again and again over the years. Childhood stories are glorious things.
But somehow, we lose that way of perceiving life as we grow up. As we develop a larger awareness of the world, our own stories no longer seem worthy of superlatives; it really wasn’t the funniest thing ever, or the longest trip. What we might have once described as miraculous is wrestled back into coincidence and relegated to the realm of the explainable. We come to feel that there is a statute of limitations on the retelling of adult stories. And adult life seems to be so busy and go by so quickly we rarely have time to soak in an experience enough make it into a story at all.
And for the most part, I think that’s okay.
But sometimes, just every once in a while, wouldn’t it be nice to slow down enough to savor our experiences? Wouldn’t it be fun to assign a sense of epic to the small and mundane things we do? To be animated and enthusiastic when we tell our stories? My hope is that, in my twilight years if I am asked what some of my favorite memories are, I will be able to smile slyly and utter fragments and phrases that are heavy with the sense of stories comprised partially of fact and partially of legend and entirely full of life.