“The story will tell you”

Another phrase of mine has come back to me, recently, from an unexpected angle. When I read to J. (unsurprisingly, this is one of my favourite child-minding activities), she is full of questions. Sometimes, I stop to answer her questions. Sometimes, I answer in more detail than she is looking for (though just as often she’s eager for more detail than I supply). And other times, I suggest that we keep reading to see if the story itself will supply the answers to her questions.

Kuhner's conocybe mushroom, photo by Jonathan Martin-DeMoor

photo credit: Jonathan Martin-DeMoor

Our bedtime book at the moment is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. We’re almost finished reading it, and though I don’t think she catches every little bit of what’s happening, what she does understand delights her. During the day, she’s often playing at eating something and growing bigger, or drinking something and shrinking smaller, giggling, curling into a little ball.

Sometimes, when the narration’s a bit dense or the banter especially convoluted, I stop reading to ask her if what I’ve just read makes sense. Perhaps she’ll nod, or look a little blank. If the latter, I’ll ask her questions to test the level of her comprehension, to see where she might be hung up, where she might have gotten lost. Sometimes, she answers my questions. Sometimes, mimicking me in other moments perhaps, she leans forward and points to the page we’re reading, and says simply “The story will tell you.”

Lately, when I’ve been working on the novel, I’ve occasionally experienced a pleasant, unexpected side effect of all this. Sometimes when I hit a patch of ambiguity in the work, or wonder how I’m possibly going to resolve something I’ve begun, I hear J’s little voice reminding me, providing me a mantra of my own.

The story will tell you.

I suppose we change sizes all the time without noticing. Self-doubt is one way we nibble a substance that shrinks us. But now I have a bit of the other side of the mushroom in my pocket. I can nibble on that. Call it confidence, or simply trust. A small dose of the kind of trust a child has, in the moments before bed, cuddling on a parent’s lap, listening to the words she is not yet able to read on her own. Impossible to remember what this must feel like, to trust like this. To have the sense that the world is comprehensible, even if not yet. To trust that though you may not understand everything, you will certainly understand something. Something will become clear. And whatever it is will be worthwhile.

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