Saturday, November 14, 2015

On Storytelling and Tragedy

This morning, as the East Coast wakes up to realize last night's news from Paris was not just a terrible dream, I am thinking once again of W.H. Auden's poem about Bruegel's painting of Icarus, "Musée des Beaux Arts." I know I've written about this before.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Today I have laundry to do. I have a ticket to Georgetown Basketball's home opener, and was planning to get there early enough to snag a Jack the Bulldog bobblehead. I have a ton of work to do before I flee the country next week: a newsletter to write for one client, a Wikipedia bio for another, four (!) manuscripts to be edited, and the usual social media stuff, which includes promoting a client's book event, happening tomorrow.

It all feels a little trivial, and yet that is exactly what it is not. Like Brueghel's ship, we have somewhere to get to, and sail calmly on. And the book stuff, especially, is not trivial, because storytelling in situations like this is what heals us and keeps us going.

In the days to come we will hear stories of kindness and heroism. These will be the stories we remember, the stories that survive. We repeat the stories that remind us of our best selves, we create the stories that describe the world as we wish it could be. Nothing, nothing is more important than that. We can be better than we are. The story does not end, as long as we keep telling it.

Tell someone that story today. Tell yourself.

No comments: