The Power of Story

Image by Kathy Fornal

Image by Kathy Fornal

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
~ Philip Pullman

 

The past few days have been rough for me. It’s a lyme thing. Partly because of the pathogens that have invaded and taken up residence in my body and partly because of the ongoing treatment to evict them.

I’ve been in excruciating pain. Pain that sets my face into hard lines during the day. Pain that has me whimpering, crying and howling in agony each night. The pain has been slowly escalating over the past few weeks, and now, at its crescendo, my bedroom is no longer a refuge. Nights no longer bracket my days with healing sleep. Instead I descend the stairs into a fiery hell.

I keep everyone awake; my husband, the dogs… even when they sleep in the guest room. My muffled sobs and screams are difficult for them to hear. They find it hard to settle, and they want to be near me, as much as I keep sending them away.

The night before last Ben stole back to our room and held my hand as I struggled. Nothing was helping.

Finally, he began to tell me a story. A story about a little girl who wakes up in a big old house in the middle of the night. She is wide awake and the rest of the house is fast asleep.

She takes her small suitcase and goes to the kitchen, where she packs a few snacks.

Image from Pickcute

Image from Pickcute

“What are the snacks?” I ask.

“Two small square sandwiches, four biscuits and a pot of jam.”

In my head I see each of these things. I wonder about the size of the sandwiches. I wonder about many things. It prompts another question. “What kind of jam?”

“Strawberry.” He strokes my hair tenderly and goes on with the story.

The little girl opens the big front door and heads off into the moonlight.

Soon she comes to a pink forest. All the trees are pink. Their trunks are like glass, lit from within so that they create a soft pink glow. Their leaves are every other shade of pink.

As Ben is creating this imaginary world I am still convulsing and writhing in pain. Tears are streaming down my face. But my mind is no longer so distressed because I am now the little girl wandering alone through this glorious pink forest while the rest of the world sleeps.

Some time in the early morning, I fall asleep for a few merciful hours. And when I wake up my head is still filled with pictures of this night-time escapade.

Over a cup of afternoon tea I ask Ben something that I have been pondering all day. “What is the ground in the pink forest made out of? Is it grass? Or dirt? Or snow? Or something else?”

“I’m sorry,” he says, smiling. “I can only tell this story at night. You’ll have to ask me then.”

Finally, amid all of this current misery, something to look forward to. My beautiful husband is helping me reclaim my nights instead of fearing them.

Image from HDWallIMG

Image from HDWallIMG

 

Reminders from my Younger Self

NicoleandBunny

“Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.” 
~ Neil Gaiman, M is for Magic

 

One of the most disorienting things about chronic illness and long bouts of treatment is that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Living in this half-alive place for so long you can begin to forget bits of who you are, and what was once important to you.

Luckily my sister recently sent me some images from our childhood. Last night I looked through them to see if my younger self could shed any light on this life I am living now. I’m so glad I did!

Here I am on board my maternal grandfather’s yacht, as part of the flotilla that went out to meet the Queen’s yacht HMY Brittania as she sailed through Morteton Bay and then up the Brisbane River to Newstead House. I’m sitting on my dad’s lap with the binoculars, trying to get a better view. I need to know what’s going on. I have never wanted to miss out on ANYTHING! That’s my little sister in front with my beloved Nana (Dad’s mum), ready to wave her flag. I remember: I adore the ocean, boats and adventures. I love the act of charting a course and navigating, and the smell of salt air, well… that’s heaven for me.

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And here we are, my sister and I, playing dress-ups at Nana’s house. We spent so many happy hours dressing up in her box of old clothes, necklaces and jewels, funny hats and handbags. I always made up stories of who we were and what we were doing and then we would act them out all over the house. The stories were the thing, and the clothes were the vehicle to take us there in our imaginations.

Sisters2 (2)

Here’s me, wiping sauce off my face after a particularly satisfying meal. If Mum, Nana or Marga (my maternal grandmother) was in the kitchen, that was where I wanted to be. Cooking,eating and anything to do with food, including growing it – they are some of my fondest early memories. (We shall not speak of my baby brother whose biggest childhood crime was pulling the carrots I was so carefully nurturing out of their pot, eating their little orange bodies and then sticking the tops back into the dirt again!)

NicoleSauceFace

Whenever I sat on the swing-set in our backyard I would think about the books I was reading and I would escape into my imagination, inventing the most fanciful stories. I was especially fond of fairies, pirates, knights, Kings and Queens, dreadful enemies, trees that could talk and horses that could fly. Of course there were also lots of castles, witches and scary forests too. Sometimes I would gather the children of the neighbourhood together and we would act them out, or put on a performance for our parents. Swinging was very conducive to thinking. Many of my best ideas were hatched there.

NicoleSwingset (2)

As I was looking over these old pictures, remembering my essence – sailing, the ocean, food, magical stories, family, adventure – I came upon this precious photo of my three grandparents.

Here they are: Marga the Regal Queen who is also a Pirate Fancier, grand Mystic Visioner and Magical Charmer, Ceddie the handsome ship’s Captain and bold Commander who always gets his crew home safely, and my little Nana who was the closest thing to a living Fairy that I ever met.

Darling Pa had already passed when that picture was taken. Pa was a returned Soldier, a Global Explorer, an Artist and a Tour Guide. He opened up strange new lands to me.

MargaCedNana

How could I ever doubt who I am or what’s important to me? Every cell of my body has been singing this song since I was born.

I like to think of my beautiful grandparents on a luxury ship up in heaven, leaning over the side amid the clouds and whispering encouragements and rememberings that drift down from above and into my ear to be retold as stories.

I shall lie here in bed today and think of my Pirates and Fairies and invent more impossible adventures for them. How lovely!!!