“Etta fall down. At da zoo. Hurt knees. Hurt hands. Etta cry.” It happened in October, but she still tells me this story of her epic zoo fall at least once a day.
“Claire Bear fall down. At da wi-berry. I bonked my head on a shelf. I screamed. Then Mama had me.” This fall at the library, too, happened in October. This story, as well, is told as frequently and reverently as a great epic from the oral tradition, with all the solemnity a toddler can muster.
Usually we sigh, the way we all tend to do when someone tells us something we’ve heard before a hundred times, and say something like, “I know baby, you fell down and hurt yourself, but that was weeks ago, and you’re ok now! Your owies are all gone!” The repetition seems to us a little silly– why keep telling the story of such little hurts? Childhood is practically made of skinned hands and knees, of knots on foreheads and bruises that fade slowly, like sunsets that last weeks.
But to our girls, they are the biggest falls they’ve had yet. Their most significant injuries. Big events in the life of small people who lead otherwise routine little lives. To them, they are big stories worth telling.
Recently, though, while thinking about my writing, the stories I tell, I realized that in a way, I’m just retelling my little epic stories too. Sometimes I feel like Debbie Downer– conversation will be zipping along, and somewhere in there I throw in the whole almost died thing *womp womp* or mention I have a heart defect *womp womp* or bring up my daughter’s spina bifida *womp womp*. Sometimes I wonder if I sound like a toddler who can’t stop recounting average hurts as if they were epic. The thing is, these things have utterly changed me and my life. I walk around, and I look like me, and people treat me like me, and I can’t even hardly believe it sometimes because it feels like I am walking around naked in new skin. I feel reborn, I feel awake, I feel alive, I feel sensitive, I feel vulnerable, and yet also older, wiser, stronger, and braver, too, all at the same time. I want to connect, I want to know I’m not alone, and I want to let other people know they’re not alone, either.
We all have our perfectly average epic stories. And they don’t have to involve near death experiences or ICUs, because let’s be honest, ICUs everywhere are full of people who also share that story, for one thing. And for another, just waking up and stepping into your life is a small but epic event for most of us at least some of the time, even if we aren’t intensely faced with our own mortality that day. Relationships, parenthood, our jobs, our faith, they’re all perfectly average great works that we are living and writing and telling each day. We need to know that others feel our hurts. We need to be reminded, too, that the hurt fades with time. We need to know that we’re all changing, and growing, and sometimes bewildered the way once familiar sensations feel on what has to be entirely new skin.
The urge to share, to reach out, to tell? As far as I can tell, it’s deep inside us and exists from the moment we get the urge to speak, probably even before. Now my girls are becoming story tellers. They come by it honestly. And they show me yet another way I’m not alone.