It isn't solely my truth to hand you, of course, but I believe a story is built of the same dynamic force as relationship. In relating, it expresses and exchanges the same basic electric magnetism, the attractive-repellant force between any two things.
A boy learns about this force at an early age, though he'll never fully understand it, even if he felt it warm as daylight as a nine-year-old…
My father wakes me so early I’m not sure I’ve slept, though I must have since I don’t remember him getting up.
“Time to go,” he says and I hope he isn’t serious. It’s dark. Where is he? “Your shoes are here.” I sit up listening to his boots walking away toward the truck to prepare the rifles.
My arm’s wet from the condensation inside the warm tent. Are we going to eat first? I won’t ask, not because I’m not hungry but because I don’t want to give away that I’m only trying to delay.
Do I know why we’re here, what this really is, this weekend I’ll become a man? He’s surely noticed how my once-bold mimicry has gone subterranean, how time’s shrinking.
Strange, these things you come to know in the stories that come to know you. These well-worn weapons polished to amber….
The glow and crackle of barely-light, perfumed with coffee and pine and damp earth. The cheap thrill of watering any tree you like but working quickly to avoid blood-suckers. You learn to think ahead, to already be where the deer will show up when they’re hungry.
Sometimes hunters don’t tell you the why of things because they know the most important lessons are never spoken. They must be apprehended through observation.
You want mature ones with antlers that have grown many points with each winter survived. You walk against the wind so they won’t smell you coming. You look for cloven prints and droppings though you don’t actually taste the dark pellets he pretends to chew, a mock native, a deer whisperer. He coaxes my reluctant smile, maybe noticed it growing more reluctant as the darkness waned sometime during our quiet steps through the undergrowth.
Even with his gaze on the dark space between the distant trees he’s undistracted, sensing. On another day not far off I will encourage this same heightened awareness while exploring with my own kids.
You’re looking for a depression down a ridge that affords an ample view. You follow the position of the sun so it won’t be in your eyes once it comes up through the canopy lining the sloping horizon of the ridgeline.
You find your protected spot and you begin to wait. And silent hours pass.
Expectancy is a wonder. You can wait so long you forget your legs and the tingling. You may even drift off only to realize in sudden shock that everything has changed. Or it hasn’t yet but it could. Because everything and always is buzzing with it.
But the longer that passes the less likely it seems anything will happen, even right up to the moment in the story that will be recounted often over the years, each time becoming somehow both rounder and more solid.
A foursome of deer, slow, watchful, not 100 yards off, parades into the clearing from the thicket. And a big buck leads them, carrying in on his large twin forks what suddenly flickers to my awareness as the shiny weapon rises quick, fluid, and I straighten my thin arm and plead a whisper.
“Don’t shoot him, Dad!”
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t look at me. The deer continue their halting steps.
He doesn’t argue. Just lowers the gun.
Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his gun for his son.
I’m so disparate, so wholly other, I should repel, but my father, compassion unfailing, his mercies are new every morning. The unlikely moment of all our effort has come and passed by and may never come again and I've mangled it. I'm Fern crying over Wilbur the pig; I'm the ridiculous old woman in The Fox and the Hound.
I've become the wrong character in the stories–and he's surely sorry he's let me read them now. And I know what's in the Happy Meals.
But for that force he felt, a power held but not grasped, in appreciation of something else, something otherwise unrelated, I may not have learned this lesson until much later–the reverence due for that fragile charge between two things.
Life brings endless opportunities to trade relationships. The test of a true hunter is in how well he listens.
Let scientists discover why relationships build intelligence and compassion. Let others sing “It’s love that makes the world go around.” I have seen this fearsome force and it is wholly mystery, pure and clear.
I know the power in a story. And I will work to write it on hearts all my life.
It’s easily forgotten, carrying your familiar stories with you every day, but it's an affective spark that could breathe new life into existence.
Because not everyone hears it, but we all sense it's there, the question–what is this attraction to what so repels?
Is the answer in the question, there in that spark of recognition?
Is this why a story is always ultimately about hope?
Wait expectantly, dear hunter. Find your stories, these captured sparks arcing through all his created wonders.