In the breathless way that only five-year-olds have, she explains to me the importance of each of the rocks in her box of precious things, held inviolable in the secret spot in the top drawer under all the socks. Since I well recall the totemic power of sea-glass and flat, smooth river stones for warding off evil and standing as sigils of fate’s approval of my existence, I listen to her recitation of each stone’s biography in the absent-but-present way that loving uncles have about them.
Her words wash over me, tumbling from her in little bursts of enthusiasm, rife with wandering asides, non sequiturs, and sighs of frustration at her own inability to articulate the ocean of meaning inside her. To the casual listener, it sounds like a grocery-list of items being ticked off in a sing-song litany. It sounds like that to me, too, except that I love her. So I listen past the tuneless song of “…and then…and then…and then” until I don’t hear it anymore, and I can actually listen instead.
She’s too young to affect the rhythms of a story-teller, the body-language, cadence, and intonations. The rise-and-fall, tension-and-resolve musical qualities of a story well-told are beyond her, for now. But the need to convey, to be understood, for her truth to be recognized… these things are well within her grasp, and they animate the story of her stones until it becomes epic. But not if you saw it written down. A transcript of it would be boredom itself, filled with “…and then…and then…and then.”
I’ve grown into the mantel of a storyteller in the midst of a clan of storytellers. To stand out from among the group of Bards and Bullshitters I hail from is a feat unto itself, believe me. So I listen with a different kind of attention to the tale of her sacred stones, hearing the story beats like a drum out of time, implying the shape of truths buried in her. Witnessing her evolution from Sunday to Sunday is something to behold. Soon this little one, with her earnest “…and then…and then…and thens” will be gone, replaced by a big-time first-grader with a grasp of relevant conversational threads, and a developing instinct for the social cues to tell which story, and when. And then her tales will rise to take their place on the long arc of the living narrative made up of every story ever told.
But for now she stumbles forward, leading with intention and meaning in the absence of all the words, as we ever have, as we ever will, for they are the millennial predecessors of syntax and grammar. When our ancestors grunted and gestured with stone knives and bear-skins, their intention and meaning was still plain to each other, and so we arose. As we ever have, as we ever will.
I know well the frustration of words that fail, that cannot contain the life they describe. When my own stories lay flat on an imaginary page, lifeless as a recitation from any randomly chosen page in the phone book, their content as stilted as a grocery-list of unrelated events, strung together by mere grammar and syntax, “…and then…and then…and then.” When all the editorial tricks are just tricks that cannot hope to animate the lifeless heap of characters we made up so we don’t have to grunt anymore. And I stare at them until it seems hopeless, all these meaningless squiggles on an electronic page that doesn’t actually exist outside the uncreated space of charged particles they inhabit. So it is that tens of thousands of words disappear into digital nullification, countless ones and zeroes recycled for better purposes. Delete.
But some days, when I’m lucky, the love comes in.
When it does —when everything seems to shine, and even the wrong words seem to rhyme— and I’m out on the street and the 3/4 time of my steps counterpoints the 7/8 time of my heart, and every dog’s bark and shoddy muffler Dopplering away from me sings a song; the play of light and shadow is a game that the whole world is hoping I’ll notice and join in. I’m like a drop of water having rejoined its vast ocean at last, yet still a drop. The breeze chases my heels along and I am subsumed by a love of every single thing, ever.
Every person on the street, every distant soul in far-away lands, my flesh and blood; my family and friends like a fire in my bones. Even those that have betrayed me, every person that has ever cheated me, every criminal that has ever stolen from me, are separated from me only by their own illusion of “otherness.” And all the heartbreak in the world —even this I love, in the way that you love a willful child who must learn in their own way; regretful that they must, but content to walk alongside while they do.
Then everything unnecessary passes away, and the words that remain —that actually tell the story, that hold the essence of the life they describe— are animated by the love of what I’ve beheld. So the breath of life comes across the dry bones of mere words, anima whetting their marrow, such that they rise up to join the long arc of the living narrative, the one that God Himself is writing about each one of us, and literally everything else. A story of every attosecond of existence, every tear fallen, every dream dreamt; about the orbit of subatomic particles, and the beat of a butterfly’s wing in China.
A brokenhearted story of love and sacred stones.
Lawrence Elliott is a retired Journeyman Carpenter of twenty years. He’s enjoying a second act in life in the employ of the University of Oregon. He blogs about autobiographical oddities at Scratched in the Sand