I listen to other peoples’ stories and imperceptibly they become mine. It is as if I were compiling an encyclopedia of stories. I settle into a seat at the corner café, open a newspaper or begin a conversation with a stranger and their stories – whether I want them to or not – become a part of me.
The taxi driver, the cabaret dancer, the bus driver, the painfully soft-spoken journalist, the waiter – all seem to have been put in my path to add their piece to this enormous compendium of stories that I am filling day by day.
I am in no rush. Being an endless book there is no deadline for the manuscript. That is fortunate as the stories come of their own accord, brought by countless, ever-changing emissaries: gristled, fresh-faced, sly and frank, inveterate wanderers and stay-at-homers – all sorts.
Story is the building block of life: everything we do revolves around the making of stories, our own and those of other people. Why do we go on living if not to see our story to its proper end. The newspapers we read, the movies we watch, the raising of a child, so-called current events – they are all just stories being made and told.
Of course, what we readily recognize as stories are those that have a beginning and an end: a book, a movie, the life of someone who is dead. But news and gossip are themselves just the leading edge of the endless story of which we each form a part.
The centrepiece and measure of all stories is one human life. It is the indivisible unit of story: the single life. Even the biggest stories of war and peace are just the sum of individual stories thrown together. Every story can – and must — be reduced to a single point of view. You can reduce any story to one life, but no further. At the very least, one human has to take part – even if only as an observer — for it to become one.
This love of story can be dangerously treacherous and amoral. It can lead you to a criminal’s story as soon as to a saint’s. But life itself, in its constant throwing up of new twists and turns, is largely amoral; we may strive all our life to make the world a “better” place, but odds are that the crush of good and evil will prevail over any attempt to bring the story to a simple end.
Human beings ooze story. We cannot lift a finger without adding a new line to our own. If you open the refrigerator, take down a book, raise a gun, make a phone call, you are adding to your own story. The act can be momentous or insignificant, but it is nonetheless duly registered.
As long as we are, there will be stories to tell. Story is our shadow until we die.
And then it is all that remains.