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Why Tell Stories?

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

For ages, people have been documenting personal history. Hieroglyphs, murals, paintings, photographs, videos…it’s all part of an elaborate process to preserve memories.

But why make such a big deal about capturing stories? Why has documenting personal history been something humans have found important for centuries?

For 15 years, my grandma, Connie Plant Kern, struggled with Multiple Sclerosis. The Mayo Clinic explains, “In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.”

This specific disease hits everyone differently but for my grandmother, it meant a quick progression of loss of mobility. From age 4, I really didn’t know my grandma outside her scooter or hospital bed. Yet, despite being unable to walk and with limited movement in her arms, she still did all she could to make our childhoods memorable and magical. One of the best ways she did this was through the children’s stories she’d author and give to the grandchildren each Christmas. The oldest of five, a mother, and a former kindergarten teacher, entertaining children was seemingly second nature to her.

Sitting with Grandma
Me and two of my cousins sitting with my grandma around the same time she began feeing the effects of MS

Until her passing in 2020, I believe we got a book each year, though as we got older, the stories moved from children's tales to stories from family history and even journal collections. I treasure these books as the writings within are an incredible way for me to preserve the memory of my grandmother.

These books, and the stories they hold mean the world to me, but recently when my mom digitized a batch of home videos I found another treasure. Videos of my grandma before her diagnosis.

As mentioned before, my grandma was diagnosed when I was about 4 years old, so I really don’t remember much of her outside MS. I’d been told my entire life by my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles about how elegant, witty, and active my grandma had been. She loved to ski, bike, play the piano, and spend time with the flowers. Seeing these home videos gave me a look into a time in her life I had been too young to observe. I felt I saw her with new, fresh eyes and was comforted by the thought that where she is now, she is probably in the whole form I was watching on the video screen.

I have been excited ever since knowing I’ll be able to show my children those videos so they can watch. Between the videos/photos I have and these newfound treasures from our home video collection, I hope my kids will gain inspiration from the same woman have looked up to for so long.

I try and live my life with no regrets but when I look back to the time I had with my grandma, I wish I would have documented more with her. I wish I asked her more questions, heard more of her life experiences, and taken more videos to capture the light she gave with the peaceful and thoughtful way she spoke. There are many reasons I wish I would have done these more, but perhaps the main one is I genuinely believe there is power in knowing the stories of the people you come from.

My Grandma sitting in a field of flowers
My Grandma sitting in a field of flowers

Just like physical traits, there are qualities not as easily seen passed through generations such as strength, determination, peace, nurturing, confidence, humor, etc. When we’re feeling down, we can find comfort in knowing the attributes we look up to in those we love can often be found in ourselves.

Hearing stories from the past also gives us a way to identify areas we might want to change - Areas where we want to break the trends, and set a new example for those to come.

I think it’s natural for someone to want to share their story and make sure it’s preserved. It’s natural for someone to want their memory to stay in the minds of their loved ones even after they’re gone.

When I think of my personal story, I look at it like a child’s art project. A vast hodgepodge of lessons, experiences, memories, and moments. Some pages of my story seem to be quickly scribbled and sketched while others are thoughtfully typed and paired with picture-perfect images. Many pages are unique and specifically crafted by me, and other pages are ones I have borrowed and sewn in from others’ stories who have impacted me.

When my mom was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer back in 2016, she often noted her greatest fear was the fact her children could potentially have chapters of their lives where their mother wasn’t there. While it was heartbreaking to see the pain fill her eyes as she spoke of these worries, it was inspiring to see how she used this as motivation to fight.

Now, five years removed from her final treatments and transplant, we tell the story of how our mother courageously defeated cancer and how the experience bonded us as a family.

My mom reading a book during her time living in the hospital while she was going through a bone marrow transplant
My mom during her time living in the hospital as she was going through a bone marrow transplant

Sometimes I worry I overshare the story of my mom's cancer, but each time the thought passes my mind, I’m quick to remind myself those years were key in making me into the person I am today. That chapter of my life is crucial to the plot of what makes me, me.

I may only be 22 but there have been plenty of experiences that make up my life story. Knowing this is a major part of why I wanted to create "Planted". If in my short 22 years I could have experienced so many things and feel like I’ve learned so many lessons, imagine what someone with double/triple the life experience could say.

When I first started thinking about the idea of "Planted", I asked myself the same question that started this whole post: why do I want to tell people’s stories?

Ultimately, I don’t know if there’s a clear answer. As one can see through my random, all-over-the-place, messy thoughts scattered in the paragraphs above, I think there are a lot of reasons.

We tell stories because it brings us closer to those we love and often those we miss. We tell stories to remember. We tell stories to find strength, and we tell stories to create change.

We tell stories because it’s human nature.

How else does one explain that throughout every century, in every era, and in every society, documenting personal history was of the greatest importance? We want to preserve memories because it's naturally of great importance to us.

Wherever you are in your story, please know it matters and it’s important. It’s a story that’s ever-changing, but one day it will be a story people look to.

Make a big deal about telling stories because the desire to tell stories is something within us.

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