The other day I was reading The Last Story of Mina Lee. And that got me to thinking—so much so that I wasn’t remembering the first half of a sentence by the time I got to the last half. The book is about a daughter who hadn’t seen her mother in a year. There were complicated feelings there. When one is not sure as to the categorization of such feelings, the word “complicated” sums it up. And so, I was reading. She went to visit her mother and found her dead, face down on the floor.
There ends a visit and begins a process. Grieving, yes. But, also the process that anybody who has ever lost a close loved one knows is unpleasant to say the least. Sorting through belongings. Wondering what they meant. Are they clues? Rallying help to move furniture and put it—where? Someone else must live there now. That life is over and all the messy bits tidied up and thrown away, given away, taken in as gifts from the departed, sold. The mind churns and we grasp for things. Why? What are we trying to solve? Are we trying to solve something? Sometimes we are—especially when the last days of the departed were spent alone and the person left in a way that seems anything but natural or straightforward.
What of the departed reflects the person no longer living? What reflects us—those left behind? Perhaps that is why so many are drawn to reading and viewing mysteries fictional or true. The word "searching" sticks out in my mind like a clue. And so, I wonder what we search for when a life has ended. What are we clinging to as we see the decline of health and therefore the ticking of the clock of time?
I think the answer is: Stories.
It feels like a natural instinct to demand a beginning, a middle and an end. We as humans seem to desire the rising and falling of an arc. Things need to make sense to us. So, we crave happy endings or justice or something that seems close to an appropriate reflection of how a story began. Were the decisions a person made good or bad? What influenced the journey now that we see where it ends? What do we hope to gain by knowing any of it---by possessing a certain artifact or document—some sort of tangible clue?
We need to digest the story because we feel it will inform our own story—the one we are writing right now with our body and our mind, our emotions and our actions. Archeologists are diggings for stories. Scientists are hoping to influence stories or discover them or predict them. Historians immerse themselves in nothing but stories. Faith is built from the foundation up, one story at a time—passed on one person, one page, one witness at a time. Math and the codes of technology are stories being told using a different language.
As I read The Last Story of Mina Lee I felt within myself a sudden urge to ask my own mother to tell us about herself. We’ve heard so many stories from her but have never written them down or recorded them. The details were sometimes hazy. The people’s names forgotten.
I picture my children with a microphone or a camera asking her questions that start from the inside and grow outward in a circle. Who is she? Her family growing up? Her parents, grandparents, siblings? Reaching back as far as her memory might go---seeing those stories in the water as they float around us. We in the boat lunge and pull the sopping wet stories out and up and into the boat—save them from sinking to the bottom of the sea never to be seen, at least not seen through that same lens, from that same angle and perspective.
What will we do with these stories once we’ve collected them? I don’t know, but I can feel the universe pulling me towards the work of saving stories, relating, understanding, witnessing humanity—together.