We decorated the tree a few days ago with all the Junior Tribe Members…complete with Chinese food and macaroni’n’cheese. It was wonderful.
On Sunday, Husband and I generally Christmas-fied the rest of our home–we hung up lights around the windows, tidied up the boxes, and put out candles. We also put up the creche.
He brought down the boxes of the stable, and the wise men, and the shepherds. He and I carefully began to open the boxes, and he said, “Have I told you the story of this nativity set?”
“Yes,” I said, “you have.”
Y’know how when someone clearly takes a step back, and pulls into himself…without actually physically moving? Yeah, that’s what he did.
His shoulders sagged and he was a little embarrassed and he quickly regrouped. And he said, “Right. OK. I don’t wanna be that guy that tells the same stories.” And he went silent. He was deflated, but worked to regain momentum as he went to remove a lamb figure from her styrofoam safety.
I knew that I had goofed.
I knew that even though I had heard the story, it needed to be retold as the crèche was brought out for display…
Husband loves to tell stories…the JTM’s sometimes tease him about how often he tells the same stories. I think a lot of dads get teased by their kids for telling stories from the good ol’days.
But I’m thinking that even though they mock the re-telling, there’s something to it. There’s something powerful about the telling–and re-telling of a story. Even tho we know how it starts. Even, maybe especially, when we know how it is going to end.
I’m not Jewish, but I have attended a Passover seder a couple of times as a guest–and loved the deep meaning and symbolism of the event. The first time I attended the seder, it was hosted by a professor of mine. He asked my children to be the the ones to participate in the story telling ritual by asking questions to prompt the telling of the story, the first of several being: “How is this night different than all other nights”.
It was beautiful to watch them participate in the seder, as children all over the world were likewise participating in the story, celebrating the Passover–as an entire people collectively in homes all over the world celebrated a story that told a powerful message of courage, love, and rescue. The story is retold every year at Passover.
There’s something about hearing stories more than once, even repeatedly over the years, that has some story become part of the lore of a family. The telling of the story reflects the values and the history of a family…it sets a direction by explaining where the family has been.
The stories retold of adversity and triumph, of heartbreak and healing…these stories, when told, speak powerfully of a family’s past in a way that can shape the future.
I goofed when I told him I had heard the story. Did it matter that I heard it before? It needed to be told again.
He needed the story to be heard again.
Don’t you, too, have stories that need to be heard again. To remember them? To re-member the important stories of your life–to give them a new life by the re-telling?
And so I asked him, as gently as I could, and absolutely sincerely…”Please, tell it again. I’m sorry I said I heard it. Please, I want to hear it. Could you tell me?”
And so he began, a little reluctantly at first, and then picked up steam quickly…because telling a good and important story is as natural as breathing:
“We got this crèche exactly 8 years ago yesterday…
8 years ago yesterday was the day she had an appointment with the cancer specialist. The day she found out about the results of the surgery. I couldn’t go with her. I had a cold that had turned into a bad case of pneumonia and I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t go to the doctor’s with her. She went with her mom.
The doctor told her that along with the tumour and surrounding tissue, they had removed 32 lymph nodes. They tested them. 28 of the 32 nodes had cancer in them. It was bad…really bad. The news no one wants to hear. The diagnosis was bleak, and the likelihood of long term survival was slim. And she had a heckuva battle ahead of her with robust treatment that was gonna be brutal.
8 years ago yesterday was also Car’s birthday. Her 40th birthday. She got her dismal cancer news on her 40th birthday.
A few days later we were watching TV. On the show we were watching three people turned 40. One went on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate. Another got beautiful jewelry from her husband. A third got a kitchen renovation. Car turned to me and said, “And I got cancer for my 40th.”
It was her birthday, she got bad news on the cancer, and I was too sick to get out of bed to do anything.”
You should know that Husband takes his job of being a husband very seriously. He is a family man through and through. He takes the mandate of supporting his wife very seriously all the time, but especially so in the rough times. He also takes birthdays and other times of celebration as ones to make a big deal. So to not be able to get out of bed for a double whammy of birthday or her tragic news was excruciating for him.
“So I got on the phone and called some friends. I asked E. to go out and buy a manger scene. I told her buy a beautiful one. I told her I didn’t care how much it cost. Car had wanted one for a few years, and now she was going to get it. E. went out to find the prettiest crèche in Winnipeg”
You should know that Husband wasn’t really in a position to say, “I don’t care how much it costs.” He’s a prudent man when it comes to money. They were just a regular family with a mortgage and the expenses of 3 active kids…and they were in the middle of a cancer battle with extra expenses and her on leave.
“I called other friends, the P’s. And they bought a tree and put it in the stand and decorated it. They all came into the house and set it all up for us. Car was out with her mom…and when she got home, she found the tree and the crèche set up.”
His face gets a wistful smile on his face. He remembers what it was like for her to come home to something unexpectedly beautiful in such a hard time. He remembers the feeling that though all he could do was reimburse his friends, he had made something pretty special happen.
But then comes the part of the story that is the crescendo, the peak of the tale…
“It wasn’t easy for me to ask these people to help. No one likes to ask for help. Me included. But they just helped. It seemed they found it important to help. And they didn’t say anything. They just did it.
It was so important in the middle of such a hard time to know that there were people who loved us so visibly. They cared for us and they just dropped whatever they were doing to do something special for her because I asked them to.
Such love by such good friends. It’s incredible, isn’t it?“
And that is how he remembers that story. The friends were friendships developed from hours of sitting on the bleachers. Sitting watching their kids play. Cheering together. Visiting during warm up, and half time, and while the kids played after the game. Over multiple years, these relationships had slowly marinated into meaningful connection.
Friends who became as family that day when he called them.
These friends change a story from utter tragedy to something that has beauty coloured firmly into it. The story of the dreaded diagnosis isn’t raw and painful…the kindness resonates in the story in ways that change the memory of it.
That change the way the story is told.
And so the telling of this story is important.
This story was re-membered every year following that first year. It gets told when the Mary and baby Jesus get re-birthed from their styrofoam nest every year.
This story, as you would have guessed by now, is also a part of a larger story that has a lot of pain and suffering in it. Car survived the first round of treatments, and had 33 good months before the cancer returned permanently. She took medication that extended her life, but also changed her life with the pain of side effects. There is a lot of ugliness to the larger story, but the ugliness is not what Husband first remembers when he looks back.
The cancer ended her life while she still had many years of life to be yet lived. The stories of the kindness of friends and family are embedded in the pain of the cancer story. The cancer story is too terrible to tolerate if not for the stories of generosity and good will, which transforms the memory, not blindly or foolishly, but with a gentle wisdom.
The stories of joy and friendship and love dull the rawness of the suffering, and bring hope. As the stories of pain and love are told over and over, the love in them grows, almost on its own…and the pain inherent in the stories dulls and loses its sting.
Stories like this one often gets told more than annually. It gets told other times of the year too.
I remember hearing the story of the cancer and the creche, and the pneumonia and the neighborliness the fall that Husband and I started walking. The telling of this story was one of the myriad of reasons I fell hard for Husband.
Stories that are amazing in the telling somehow make the teller of the story more amazing too. 🙂