Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reflection: Authors of Each Other's Lives

If you've read other stories in which my mother appears as a character, you may be surprised by "My Mother's Black Dress". That's a different mother -- or is it?

We are all mixtures of such different things; in disjointed snapshots taken over time, we would likely not impress a stranger as being the same person. Now I'm going to draw an analogy from a particuar book -- though I am not comparing my mother or anyone else to that particular character.

In the closing scene of Stones from the River, the main character sees, in a vision, her first friend: She sees him not as the war-scarred, drinking, wife-beating man he's become, but as the child of thirty-odd years back. She wonders if story still has the power to salvage something of worth: "It had to do with what to tell first - though it hadn't happened first -- and what to end the story with. It had to do with what to enhance and what to relinquish. And what to embrace."

Few people express the power of story -- or their own authorship -- that eloquently. Yet aren't we all, in careless and not so careless ways, the authors of each other's stories? When we describe a person's physical attributes, or quote their words, we're making observations. When we attribute mental states, we're making inferences. And when we share our inferences with other people, we may alter the course of the story, becoming, for good or ill, the authors of each other's lives.