Telling a new story

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There’s a new cafe opened near me and I recently spoke to the owner about the experience of grief and in slightly lowered tones, about how it’s one that causes you to yourself in a new way.

Words like respect, kudos, super human powers, heroic all make a stab at the feeling we both acknowledged, that you feel yourself to be part of a new story, one in which your life takes on a kind of mythical status. I’ve thought often about my friend, Alice, who texted me words of sympathy immediately after I told her Mark had died, but also words urging courage, words that seemed aimed at my backbone, at making me walk tall and not crumble. And everything she said and wrote after that pointed to the fact that suffering was a part of life that we had to embrace and that I, along with countless other women before and after me, had the means of getting through.

Time has passed, and I’m looking for new stories, new tales and words to shape me at a time that seems to be in between spaces, filled with longing for what was and what might become. Stories that take the frame beyond the lone heroics, to ones that highlight both our individual rarity and our interdependence. I’m currently reading Sharon Blackie’s The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday in which she outlines some of the stories of our culture, including the story of more and the story of individualistic heroism. Neither of those stories work for me now. The stories of a good life crumbled into dust when I began thinking about what life I could rebuild. Faced with the biggest crisis I had known, having to dig so deep within to find the resources to live, the consumer culture offerings only made my heart clunk with heavy despair.

We are desperately in need of new stories. That is clear when we read that scientists are warning that we have just 12 years to avert catastrophic climate disruption. Yet we seem entirely wedded to continuity of our way of life, no matter how unrealistic it has become, and incapable of imagining the alternatives that don’t endanger the world and everything living on it. We’ve come so far from stories that speak of our connection to the earth, to the creatures and plants within it, to a sense of our being part of this world rather than plunderers of it.

Our lives seem entirely tired up in the story of capitalism – the story of elite white male domination over women, land and indigenous peoples, a story of forced labour, slavery and extracting all that the world has to offer. There seems no end to the greed, which seems to be careering out of control, taking ever more greater risks with the precious resources we have.

What are the stories we need to tell ourselves that reawaken our sense of rightness to each other and to the world around us? Having survived a personal earthquake, I like to think that I have developed some resilience, the capacity to journey on despite heartache and loss. But papers I’ve read recently about the near inevitability of social collapse suggest that those skills will be sorely tested and will require sharpening and intensifying in days and years ahead. Already we have seen that in times of crisis things can go different ways, that people will move to the right, to more authoritarian leadership in order to deal with the uncertainty and insecurity. But if we tell new stories, or recover old ones, that emphasise rightness with the earth, if we encourage a sense of abundance in sharing and having things in common, rather than focusing on fear and lack, it just may be that we can begin to tell a new story about ourselves.