I feel stories are about questions more than answers. We tell the same stories as our ancestors because we have the same questions. Where do we come from before life, where do we go after death, what is funny, edible, sacred?
Often times more important than an answer is to know that we aren’t alone.
We give our lives value through our struggles and our struggles voice through our stories.
John Berger said ‘Stories bring meaning to experience.’
The Ancient Greeks believed that a story worked like a loom in that vertically ran the metaphor, horizontally ran the sequence, and where they came together they wove invisible yarns for their cloaks of immortality.
On the island of Cape Clear, in the south of Ireland, a festival happens that is regarded as one of the best in the world by audiences and storytellers alike. The festival is online this year and again features some of the best storytellers the world has to offer. I travelled there in 2000 and wrote this story.
Cape Clear island lies off of the southern-most tip of Ireland. In many ways it has the feel of a typical Irish countryside, whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs, the roads not wide enough for two cars to pass, thick hedgerows and rock walls dating back hundreds of years. On the highest point of this tiny island there are ancient ruins, rock formations, spires and sanctuaries that align the landscape with the stars. These spires point to similar structures in South America and Mongolia. At night the Cape Clear sky unleashes a view of the heavens unlike any other. In a Cape Clear pub Jerry, a bright-eyed man from Limerick, decides we should be friends.
The next day Jerry is walking with me to have ice cream.
As we make our way we are surrounded by a most disturbing sound. It’s the birds. A cacophony of calls, whistles, chirps, cackles.
Jerry explains that, because of Cape Clear’s location, birds from all of the major flyways come here. Africa, Europe, North and South America even Asia. Blown off course, this is the first land they see. These birds have decided that after being blown across the ocean, ‘that’s it, I’m not going back out there’, and have made it home. Cape Clear is an ornithologist’s paradise. I see parrots, sparrows, crows, hawks, robins, finches.
The ice cream is made by a local man who is blind and a goatherder. Incredible ice cream, Chocolate or vanilla, that’s all he makes. “And be careful,” says Jerry, “every once in a while, a small stone.”
The birds outside are particularly active. We have to shout to be heard. The goatherder smiles and I’m reminded of my friend John, from back in the States.
John has perfect pitch, if you hear a car horn honk he can tell you what key it’s in. John is also blind, a Christian, schizophrenic and gay. He said years ago his head was so full of conflicted voices, he thought several times of suicide. Then one day he was in a laundromat. All the machines were going, washers and driers. Inside that chaotic laundromat John said he could hear patterns. He figured that if there were patterns, connections, in that place, then there must be in his conflicted life as well. He hasn’t thought of suicide since.
I sit in the goatherder’s shack.
He smiles and Jerry looks at me with those intense eyes of his. I’m being given a gift. I don’t understand it yet but I do know that sometimes life gives you answers before the questions.