Telling stories

I was sitting with a group of people prior to a meeting and the subject of speeding tickets came up. I have received three speeding tickets in my life, all before I reached the age of 30, so I didn’t have any recent stories to tell. he best I could come up with occurred in 1995, when I was pulled over by a highway patrol officer a few weeks after the state had lifted the 55mph limit on all of its roads. The place where I was traveling had a new limit of 65 mph. The officer reported that he had clocked me at 67 mph and although he wasn’t going to give me a ticket, he wanted me to know that there a new zero tolerance of exceeding the new speed limits. It isn’t much of a story, but it was what I had.

Later, I got to thinking about my desire to have a story to tell. In other similar occasions, I have told the story of when I was a teenager and my father was stopped for speeding. The officer, trying to make a joke, asked my father for his pilot’s license. My father, being a pilot, produced it. The surprised officer laughed, gave him a warning and we were on our way.

There are occasions when it seems that everyone has a story to tell. This time of year I hear a lot of blizzard stories. I have a few of my own to tell as well. Most folks who have lived around here have had some experience of driving on icy roads or a tale of the power being out for an extended period during a storm, or of a blizzard that downed trees and made things difficult for a while.

In our town, there are a select few who have flood stories. The 1972 flood in Rapid City created a lot of terrifying experiences. Many people experienced the loss of homes and vehicles. Many lost friends and loved ones in that dramatic event. Those who experienced the flood have a lot of stories to tell. I didn’t live in Rapid City at the time. I did visit after the event and saw first hand some of the destruction. My stories aren’t as dramatic as those of the survivors.

Telling our stories is one of our ways of connecting with other people. We do it naturally whenever we have an opportunity. There is storytelling around the table before meals or at the coffee shop. There is storytelling before and after meetings. It is common for me to go around the church turning off lights and locking doors after a meeting. Then I get into my car and pull around the building to find that there are multiple conversations going on in the parking lot between people who haven’t left for home yet.

We love to tell stories.

In recent weeks, we have discovered a new set of stories - ones that if we had heard them before have a fresh impact in the light of our own personal experiences. It seems as if a lot of my friends and acquaintances have stories of experiencing atrial fibrillation. Yesterday I had lunch with a church member who himself and his wife had been treated for AFib since Susan’s hospitalization. I don’t know how many cardio inversion procedures are done at our hospital each day, but it seems that there are multiple cases each day. According to the American Heart Association at least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. More than 200,000 cases are treated each year. There are a lot of AFib stories out there. I suppose that one of the features of our lives is that we will be hearing and telling those stories from now on.

Occasionally, when I am with my sister or one of my brothers we will get to telling stories and I will be surprised by the stories that I hear. With one brother, especially, I hear stories that don’t connect with my memories. It seems that we have very different memories of similar events and times in our lives. I joke that either we didn’t grow up in the same house, or he is a liar, I don’t know which.

Studies have shown that the stories that we tell the most often are more likely to have drifted from the actual events than ones that are told less frequently. It appears that when we tell stories frequently, we develop memories of the storytelling. When an exaggeration or deviation from the actual events occurs, we develop false memories that lead us away from the actual events.

It hasn’t always been that way for our people. For thousands of years, we practiced a very different kind of storytelling. In the days before electricity and modern conveniences, telling stories was a major form of entertainment. People would gather in the evenings after a meal and tell stories. The stories were frequently repeated. Those with the deepest significance became memories, word-for-word by groups of people. Group memorization has a self-correcting feature. When one person makes an error in the telling, others correct that error. With this technique people were able to tell stories with complete accuracy for generation upon generation. When writing became common, it was less trusted than the spoken word. Writing was prone to errors, whereas stories that had been memorized by groups of people were reliable. It is hard for us to think in those terms, because since the invention of the printing press, we have reversed our opinions about writing. Until very recently, we have believed that things that are win writing are more reliable than the spoken word.

With the advent of the Internet, however, things are shifting again. It isn’t uncommon for someone to take out their phone and do a bit of on the spot research during a conversation. Their sources, however, might not be as reliable. There is a lot of misinformation available on the Internet.

Who knows what stories our grandchildren will tell? Who knows how accurate they might be? Time will tell. One thing is certain, however. They too will tell their stories. It is something we have always done and will always do.

Did you hear the one about . . . . ?

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!