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Opinions

Volume 65 Number 5

What's the story? Sharing the power of words

by Lindsey Waller - 2015-03-19


When I first read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, I dismissed his notion that words cannot accurately express the human experience. I believe in the power of words. Words create stories; I love telling and hearing stories.

My friend recently told me a story about a traumatic personal experience. She and her cousin got lost in the wilderness for 10 hours. The girls were hiking on their family ranch because they wanted to see if the path would loop back around to the ranch house. They trekked up steep hills and through winding ravines for hours. As they crested the largest hill at that point, it became clear that the path was only taking them farther from home. Soon after they made the decision to turn around and head home, the sun receded and darkness absorbed everything. On the way back, the path seemed a hundred times more terrifying and the terrain a hundred times more challenging than it did on the way out.

In the darkness they struggled to stay on track, as everything began to look the same. Paranoid that a mountain lion stalked their every step, the girls sang at the top of their lungs: “Dinah, won’t you blow your horn?” When my friend had to leave her horse behind because the horse refused to climb back up the hill, tears spilled down her cheeks. But her instincts pushed her to keep going. Dehydrated and exhausted, the girls took turns riding the horse and guiding her. When my friend heard rustling in the brush next to her, her heart pounded against her chest. I’m going to die, she thought to herself...there is no possible way I can get out of this.

Suddenly, she noticed lights in the distance. Flooded with hope, the girls screamed for help. When their eyes finally focused, though, she realized they were just tail lights. Just as my friend and her cousin crumpled to the ground, ready to give up, they heard a voice shouting in the distance. They turned and saw a faraway figure, who broke into a sprint toward them. When the figure reached the girls, they recognized their uncle. Unable to contain their hysteria any longer, the girls sobbed as they embraced their uncle.

Now for a true confession: The story I just told you is not entirely true. The general facts are accurate. My friend was lost for 10 hours with her cousin, she did leave her horse when he refused to continue, and their uncle did rescue them in the end. The rest, though, was my version of someone else’s story. I told her story based on the way it made me feel. I thought I knew exactly how she felt until I imagined how my friend might interpret a similar story about my own traumatic experience. I knew I could never truly make her understand.

So what is the point? Why tell stories if we will be alone with our experiences no matter how many words we use to try to describe them? Even though I can’t know exactly how my friend felt, her story touched me. Once I got past the fact that I can never truly convey my own experience, I realize that despite the limitations, storytelling is my best outlet.

My story can still convey message, and if I tell it well, I’m hopeful that I can evoke enough emotion to create empathy.


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words, experience, friend, story, girls, horse, though


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