Oct 12, 2014

Seven days of gratitude, day two: the storytellers

My ex-wife used to react with fury when I listened to tapes of interviews with mythologist Joseph Campbell. "That old man just likes to hear himself talk!" she exclaimed in disgust. Well, I like to hear him talk too. As many others could say during and after his life. His analyses of the role that narrative has played in the course of human culture reflects some of the deepest universal truths of the human mind and heart and offers these insights in clearer language than most of us can achieve on our own.

Yesterday I expressed my gratitude for teachers, giving a few examples of the many who have helped me achieved a better understand and mastery of the world and its complexity. These teachers often conveyed this understanding in stories, even in subjects of science and math, which some who do not understand those disciplines might think were rather far from a good story line. But tales like that of Kekulé, dreaming of twisting snakes in the fire to discover the structure of benzene, prepared me for the intuition and dreams which most often guided my own creative activity as a programmer and scientist and taught me to trust my instincts and cope more effectively with the ambiguity that accompanies the best science.

The stories that have shaped me have come from many places and people: readings from my parents or stories of their experience; tales from far-back generations transmitted through a great aunt who, together with her father, my great grandfather, recognized my interest in the past and composed a written and photographic record of genealogy and transcripts of family writing from the past which occupy me to this day researching the stories and lessons these contain. Sometimes they are shared casually by friends, who do not realize the value of the gift shared. Sometimes from books or historical reports and interviews heard by chance on the radio. These storytellers use every medium: the spoken and written word, song, poetry in every form and images. Each shapes the story in unique ways and often reveals messages not or not easily apparent in other media.

I am grateful for the storytelling translators, colleagues like Susan Bernofsky, who revitalize old tales from German literature, infusing them with new life in my language in ways that surprise and delight me. So many translators whose names I do not know have carried the world's literature on many long and difficult journeys, sometimes at deadly risk, to share tales which inspire them. We cannot thrive by contract and patent translation alone but need those sparks from far places to light our minds and hearts and burn away the misunderstandings which bind our spirits.

Reflect if you will on the stories which have influenced your thoughts, feelings and choices throughout your life and how you have shared or can share these to enrich the lives of others or achieve a better understanding with them or can do so still. The gift increases in the giving.


Day One – Teachers
Day Three – This Old Frying Pan
Day Four – Dogs
Day Five – Dissidents
Day Six – Hands
Day Seven – Free Will

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