Once upon a time…
The city rushed outward and upward in all directions, blurred by the rain and gloom of another afternoon storm. The streets teemed with cars, headlights glaring through the sheets of rain, reflecting off the wet pavement.
Gemma was lost – caught by surprise in the storm and turned around in the unfamiliar city. Disheveled, her soaked clothing clung tightly to her skin. Stepping over a surge rushing past a drain that couldn’t cope, a streetlight and a modest storefront sign caught Gemma’s eye. The building was nothing like the towering glass-and-metal structures surrounding it. Rather, it was welcoming: stone-clad with wide wooden windows. Inside books were piled high. Pushing open the door, a bell sang Gemma’s arrival.
“Make yourself at home, my dear,” a friendly voice called from the back, hidden within the labyrinth of books.
Gemma gazed around the interior of the well-worn shop. The books on the highest shelves were hidden under a thick layer of dust, and the scent of yellowing paper filled the air. From the corner of a bookshelf, a woman appeared – her long white hair tied in a loose braid. She surveyed Gemma from behind silver eyeglasses.
“Quite a storm to be caught in with no umbrella,” she said with a smile. “I was just making some tea, care for some?”
“Yes – thank you” Gemma nodded.
“There’s a towel hanging on that rail over there. What brings you to the city?” the woman asked, weaving her way around the stacks of books on the floor to the back of the store.
“I’m just visiting,” Gemma replied, drying herself off and following her through the maze.
“Chamomile or Earl Grey?”
Tea poured and sweetened to Gemma’s liking, the two strangers sat on stools at the checkout counter, mugs in hand.
“How long have you worked here?” Gemma queried.
“Longer than you’ve been alive.” the woman grinned.
“How old is this shop? It feels like it could tell as many stories as it has books” said Gemma.
“Older than me by far,” said the woman, looking at Gemma over the rim of her glasses, as if weighing her soul. “What’s the difference between history and myth, do you think?”
Gemma opened her mouth to answer, but the words caught somewhere between her heart and her throat. “I-I-I’m not sure,” she said simply, which was the truth.
The woman laughed “Why, it’s the person who tells it, of course!”
Gemma grinned, “If you were to tell me about the shop, would it be history or myth?”
“Ha!” the old woman exclaimed. “Now that’s a good question.”
There was a story on the tip of her tongue, mingled with the scent of Earl Grey tea and honey. Gemma could sense that this tale was more valuable to her than any of the books surrounding them both. She settled in to listen, fingers wrapped around a warm mug of tea.
“The man who built the shop was a natural-born storyteller. His parents said he was telling stories before he could walk, wielding words like playthings. Everywhere he went, people asked him for stories. Some he told aloud, some he scribbled on used envelopes or torn sheets of paper. The best ones he kept to himself, hopeful that one day he would have a shop from which to sell them.
As a young man, he saved and scraped by, working in factories and cleaning up around building sites. Back then, the city was growing but had no aspirations towards the sky. The buildings were short, sturdy, and simple, made to weather the summer storms.
After years of toiling, the man bought a plot near the edge of the city and set about building his shop. The day before they laid the foundation, he wed a spirited woman with hair like ink. She was an epic poem and he a ballad. Three days after the store opened for the first time, they welcomed a wee daughter into their little home above the shop.
Unfortunately, two days later, the man’s wife died in the night and his stories died with her. He closed his shop and did not open it again for nearly a year. When he did reopen, he sold books written by others and never told a story again.
Years passed, and as his daughter grew it became clear that she was no ordinary child. On the cuffs of gruff men’s sleeves, she scribbled poems that brought them to tears. She crafted stories out of raindrops and fairy tales from a candle’s flame.
Soon, people came to the store not for books, but for the little girl’s words. Ask anyone and they would tell you that her poems could cure sickness, her stories could mend broken things, and a single word from her lips could add a year to a man’s life.
Meanwhile, her father watched and wasted away in despair. He had been reduced to a man of sorrow, held together by thin strings of pride for his daughter, who looked more like her mother every day. Before she reached her seventeenth birthday, his broken and storyless heart gave out.
He left the shop to her, along with faded copies of the stories he wrote before her mother died. She clung to those pages, read them until she could recite them from memory, and no longer wondered why her father had given up storytelling.
At night, she read his words aloud to taste her grief. Each time she did, she could swear a figure appeared in the shadows beyond the candlelight, to listen and remember. Around her, the city grew grander and taller. Over the years fewer and fewer people came to ask for stories, and more and more people came by happenstance to buy books.
One stormy day, a man walked into the bookstore to ask for a tale. He was kind and had a smile full of sonnets. His story was only one word: love.
A few months later, they married just outside the bookstore, he in an ink-black suit and she in a gown made of poems written in lace. They published her father’s writings and some of their own, as well. They raised children, two boys and three girls, who stood firm as the city was reborn around them. And when the two of them died, old and full of memory, they passed the store on to their youngest son, who loved the books like siblings and taught his child to do the same.
He then passed the store on to his daughter, who could only hope to wield words half as well as her forebears.”
“There you have it,” the old woman says, finishing off the last dregs of her tea. “The story of this bookshop.”
Gemma smiled into her mug. The rain had stopped and the first beams of sunlight began peeking in through the windows.
“So was it your family that built this store?” Gemma asked.
“That depends,” replied the woman.
Her eyes twinkled with poems. “On whether you believe the story is a history or a myth.”
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman
Moral of the Story:
Telling stories is as basic to human beings as eating. In fact, while food makes us live, stories are what make our lives worth living. Perhaps the thing that makes us human is the stories (real and imagined) that each of us has inside. Many people think that the gift of storytelling belongs only to writers, shamans, and the very old. The reality is we are all storytellers from the very earliest days of our lives. When you tell a story, you spark a connection. Storytelling is how humans have communicated since the beginning of time. You’re both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You’re the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.
Sometimes, when a concept is pondered, the universe will provide all the inspiration needed. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving. Stories are central to human cognition and communication. We engage with others through stories, and storytelling is a lot more than just a recitation of facts and events. As human beings, we are automatically drawn to stories because we see ourselves reflected in them. When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own.
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
― Patrick Rothfuss
Affirmation: I share me with you through my stories.
When the writer in me connects with the reader in me, magic happens! Stories are my statement to the world! Today my statement is amazing! Inspiration for communicating with effective stories flows to me from everywhere! Today I let go and allow my stories to flow onto the page! My writing is a stream of feeling that flows from my heart to my reader’s heart. I am absolutely committed to writing something each and every day! Today my muse is persistent and consistent! My stories are my gift the world. My words flow like a mighty river. My words are powerful enough to speak to generations! My imagination overflows with creativity.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou