What’s real and what’s fiction?
I love this question, asked to a group of us recently by a very clever co-worker and storyteller.
Here’s one for you.
Between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was back home working for the summer. We lived in a farmhouse that was over 100 years old. One morning, home alone before work, I stood leaning against the kitchen sink, staring out the window. Our dog Zack was enjoying a morning snooze on the landing at the bottom of the stairs. The house was completely quiet. I remember the moment so vividly, mostly for its absolute… nothingness. Suddenly, I heard my dog Zack growl. I looked over and saw him standing at the bottom of the stairs, staring wide-eyed up to the top. He was standing rigid, the fur on his neck up on end . I couldn’t see what was at the top of the stairs because there was a wall covering the stairwell; whatever it was scared the hell out of him, and he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He growled again, barked once, and hightailed it out of there – running past me and out the door (he could open and close it by himself, clever dog). I figured I could go investigate what exactly was at the top of the stairs, or I could trust his sound doggy-advice and get a move-on. I chose option B, hightailing it out of there right on his heels toward my car, which happened to be parked directly in front of the window that looked out from the top of the stairs. As I walked toward my car I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my head, feeling watched from that window and not in any kind of friendly “oh hi how’s it going?” sort of way.
What’s real, what’s fiction?
That story I told you is real. It really happened. But what happened, exactly? My dog growled, and I got spooked. Is it fiction to say that I had myself a ghost encounter back at that farmhouse? Maybe. But all these years I’ve told it as my ghost story. That’s the way I remember it, the way I experienced it.
There are very few absolute truths out there. Maybe gravity. And E = MC². And the Law of Whenever The Power Goes Out All I Can Think Of To Do Is Things That Require Electricity. But my point is this: what’s real to me is a composite of my experiences, my beliefs, my feelings. What’s real to you is your composite. They might be similar but, most likely, they will be different.
I think sometimes people equate the “truth” with the “facts.” But the problem with that is that facts are just the quantifiable things that happen. Stories are what we do with those facts, and our lives are weaved by our stories. And, as Tim O’Brien says in The Things They Carried, “…story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” Or as Daniel Pink paraphrased EM Forester in A Whole New Mind, “a fact is: the queen died and the king died. A story is: the queen died and the king died of a broken heart.”
What’s real and what’s fiction? Life is not black and white. It is solidly gray. So, when you are tempted to judge or dismiss another person’s “truth”, think of your own “ghost story” and handle them with care.
How can you honor what’s “real”?