Saturday, March 4, 2023

Light shines through stumbling

All These Wonders is one of those books that just stayed with me for an eternity until I finally cracked it open — and then I couldn't put it down. I had previously trudged through How to Tell a Story from the Moth storytellers, and so I was gun shy about another Moth storytellers book.

Honestly, I hadn't heard of the Moth storytellers before I ran across these books. The Moth is an organization in New York City that helps individuals tell highly personal spoken-word stories. They get celebrities, movers and shakers and everyday folk up on stage with a microphone.

Whereas How to Tell a Story (2022) is prescriptive about storytelling, All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown (2017) is a compilation of 45 stories originally performed as spoken word.

My gosh, so many of the stories were poignant and affected me. When we face the unknown, wonder often occurs. What might appear to be something horribly scary often deepens us as human beings. My big takeaway is that a truly worthwhile story is one in which the speaker realizes something he wouldn't had if he didn't reflect and tell the story.

In All These Wonders, some star power glistens as Louis C.K., Hasan Minhaj, Tig Notaro and John Turturro each tell stories. I found Turturro's story, "Stumbling in the Dark," especially meaningful because it tackles mental illness from the point of view of a family member.

Turturro's brother, Ralph, is in an institution and has pretty much every mental illness out there. As John says, "You name it. He's got it."
Turturro's story takes place in New York, where there is a blackout and John is picking up his brother to take to a restaurant. As he walks up eleven flights of stairs in dark, he shares these words:

"I'm thinking what a roller coaster mental illness is. Not just for the patient, but for everyone else involved. It's a sentence that you're given, and it's a life sentence. And there's all the things you have to go through: the doctors, the drugs, the violent outbursts, the destruction (literally and emotionally), the police coming to your house, the shame that you live with. It just goes on and on.

It's not like those movies like A Beautiful Mind where someone reaches out and says, 'All you need is love.' You know?

Love is a given, but it's a war of attrition. It really is. It's a long, endless baseball season that never, ever ends. It goes on and on."

Turturro's words hit home to me and gave me permission to let go, and better understand, people close to me who struggle with mental illness. I love them, but it is just so draining and difficult.

Many of the other 44 stories also affected me, from Hector Black who forgives the murderer of his daughter, to Amy Biancolli who deals with the suicide of her husband. The subject matter is often difficult, exceptionally personal and honest, and it's impossible to give many of the stories the attention and accolades they deserve in this brief write-up.

It takes courage to tell these stories. But it also takes courage to truly listen to difficult life situations that many of us will never face. Perhaps tragedy and comedy are one of the same coin as are joy and suffering. Maybe that coin is called "life."

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