When I was a kid, I had a completely insane teacher try to convince the entire class that the world existed as but a figment of our imaginations. His argument was that nothing outside the door existed until we opened the door and went outside. Our story was the most important story in the world because it was the only one that was real.
He convinced some students they were above rules as, according to his theory, nothing existed that wasn’t recognized by the story teller. It was a bit of an existential nightmare, and for his hard work at confusing (and in some cases, corrupting) young minds he was fired at the end of the year.
Still, his points have had me thinking for years. Not that my story is the one, only, true story of the universe, but in the context of viewing others as storytellers in their own right.
I’m sitting in traffic, drumming with frustration on the steering wheel because I’m running late, I can easily envision the entire story that’s led me to that point. I remember buying my car. I remember signing up to volunteer that day. I remember getting distracted by a challenging code puzzle. I remember rushing out the door and almost slipping on a patch of ice in the driveway. I remember the drivers who’d cut me off, those who’d let me merge, and the little old lady who blocked my turn and left me stuck at yet another red light.
The story about what led me to that light – to that moment – is rich and could fill mountains of pages if anyone cared to tell it. It’s also my story, so it’s something dear to me when I look back on it.
But if I look to my left or my right I see other drivers. Other individuals with stories of their own – some similar to mine, some unfathomably different. The light turns green, and they’re gone. Stories as mountainous as my own that will never intersect again and forever remain a mystery.
I watch a bus pass by, carrying with it a score of frustrations, hopes, fears, ambitions, and stories. Each and every one precious in its uniqueness and untellable in its scale. Just pausing for a moment to appreciate the grandiose nature of the world around me is breathtaking.
A honk sounds behind me and I realize, like the old woman before me, my daydreaming has stranded yet another driver at yet another light. I hurry through as the light fades to yellow and watch a woman behind me begin to drum with frustration on her own steering wheel.
I wonder what story led her to that moment.