Every storyteller, whether he is Shakespeare telling about Hamlet or Luke telling about Mary, looks out at the world much as you and I look out at it and sees things happening—people being born, growing up, working, loving, getting old, and finally dying—only then, by the very process of taking certain of these events and turning them into a story, giving them form and direction, does he make a sort of claim about events in general, about the nature of life itself.
And the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning—that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere.
The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.
And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feeling it gives us that if there is meaning in any life—in Hamlet’s, in Mary’s, in Christ’s—then there is meaning also in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and it makes us listen to the storyteller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is. – Frederick Buechner
You smile and their face lights up. You shake hands or hug. You chat over your usual order, or sit in the back porch over lemonade and begin to catch up. And before you know it, or without even really realizing it, your conversation has plunged into deeper waters than you dare to go with the average acquaintance. And that’s why they’re such a good friend, because you don’t stay on the surface. (It’s clear to all of us that there is much more beneath the slight ripples, more in the heart and soul that somehow should and could be known if we cared enough or were brave enough to venture in.)
But with a good friend we do just that. It’s not, “Hello, how are you?” or, “Wow, that storm last week was a real gully washer.”
It’s not necessarily even, “My son failed his math class and I’m not sure he still wants to go to college.” Though it might start there, it goes deeper. Why that decision of your son makes you fear your parenting over the years hasn’t been enough, or that you have somehow enabled him, or disabled him through your own set of fears and hang-ups.
Whatever it is, it is not, “Everything is fine.” It’s truth. It’s honesty. It’s revealing questions you have and fears that loom, and situations that still threaten to overwhelm you. Somehow, when shared with a good friend, they seem not as much. Or a light shines so far away as to seem only a pinprick that could very well be an oncoming train for all you know but, for the moment illuminates your conversation just enough.
As a friend bestows a little light perhaps through words. Or perhaps through your own words, when you’re finally honest and brave enough to voice them, you realize what’s at the core of that thing you’re fearing or running away from. You’re finally at home enough to where you can be yourself and in your own skin.
And somehow, in a way, reading a book by a favorite author has a similar effect. (Or is it just me?) You smile at their audacity to put something in print that you never would have confessed in a hundred years. It gives you confidence that maybe it doesn’t really need to stay hidden. You smile at their choice of words or are completely awed by the way they seamlessly weave together a concept or thoughts that you’ve always felt or wondered or held deep inside.
You know, Hey, that’s me in there. In those pages.
And maybe, just maybe, somewhere in their heart. Somehow, in that way that doesn’t really make sense but doesn’t have to. Because truth is stranger than fiction. And the words we speak and the words we write are somehow are part of us that come from a place so deep that we don’t know exactly what’s going on down there.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I write. To figure out who else might understand or relate or wonder the same things I do.
And that’s why when I meet an author through the pages of a book new or old, I know I have made a friend. I know I can be myself with that person, when and if I ever meet them. That our conversation would venture beyond the “how are you” and “I hope your health is not affected negatively by all the smog in the air.” Because for so long, through their words, they have been a part of my life, like a friend is – no matter how near or far.
Through them, or because of them, I have the courage to be myself, which is often the very bravest the best and worst of us can be, to let a bit of all that flows beneath the surface slip out for a glimpse from time to time.
Have you “met” an author like that? Please leave a comment if you have a favorite author or two who are like that old friend or kindred spirit.