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Who tells your story?


We live for stories. Favourite TV shows and movies, prized comics, bedtime harangues, hoary old faery tales, crooned lullabies, beloved novels and well-thumbed picture books; these are often among our first and most deeply loved memories. In the vast tapestry of human experience, stories act as an enduring thread, interweaving memories, feelings, and hopes. They are more than mere tales — they are the patterns etched into the fabric of our lives, guiding our growth and aspirations.

For many of us, narrative is how we learn; what we live for, why we smile. I believe the impetus we have to succeed and grow in life – to aspire, nurture and act – can be sourced from the pools of lore and myth we swim in as children.

For those of us with children of our own, we find delight in observing them embrace their own narratives. As a parent of teenagers, I delight in gently reminding the offspring of who they used to be, as they grow into who they are becoming. Part of that journey, for them, is working through what parts of their origin story make sense to them, and distancing themselves from the stuff that may be holding them back from being happy and healthy.

Watching your children gradually grow into independent individuals can be daunting. My wife and I grapple with this transition, finding ourselves torn between the innate desire to protect and the imperative to let go; valuing them as their own people. That’s as it should be. It’s a cycle repeated without end. And this cycle, as perpetual as it is universal, sees each generation wrestling with the same challenge — how to discover, craft, and share their own unique stories.

In that process, it's crucial to recognize that humans are not singular entities. While we share a common origin as human beings, and we’re all the same as people, we are also all different as individuals; we’re hewn from the same block of bipedal life, shaped by nature, nurture and culture.

As Homo sapiens, we all share a common paradox — we are individuals yearning for distinct identities, yet we remain an integral part of the collective human narrative; it applies to us all, however much we may see ourselves as unique, or growl misanthropically at our fellow humans in our Western desire for individuality.

The journey towards becoming a self-aware adult capable of sharing their story harmoniously without overemphasizing or underestimating their individuality is a Herculean task. ‘Getting there’, being a grown-up who knows themselves and can share their story with others through times of conflict and accord, without losing the self or over-valuing it; that’s the hard bit. At the tender age of 55, I hope to get there myself one day.


'Who tells your story when you're gone? That question is true for all of us. In the end, our story, our legacy, is crafted not in isolation, but in the crucible of community, family, and relationships.'


We, as individuals, inevitably reflect on our legacy. Irrespective of who we are, how we love, what we do, why we act and where we spend our energy, we are all bound to one intergenerational consideration: what do we leave behind?

This wrestling with story is writ large in shared existence. Consider the bizarrely sustained international spat about the ‘spirit of cricket’ and the dismissal of English wicketkeeper Johnny Bairstow, and the convenient editing of stories; Bairstow and the English forget that he has himself conducted and attempted the same form of ‘sharp’ dismissal.

More significantly, what of a deeper and more blooded struggle – the lurching progress towards instituting the Voice of Indigenous Australians as a part of our national parliamentary forum? The opposition demonstrated by certain conservatives towards the proposed change rejects the profound influence of a people's stories. It dismisses the harrowing experiences and testimonies of dispossession, rape, and genocide. This stance is an abrogation of compassion, displaying a shared evasion that ignores the continuing effects of colonisation. What do we tell our kids? What do we tell each other? Who do we listen to?

When a group of an individual loses touch with its lodestone – the weave between memory and story – the result is a loss of identity and spiritual connection with the truth of that person or persons.

At my weakest, lowest point in an earlier version of me that seems lifetimes ago, a few days after a painful and life-forging separation in my 30th year, I found myself on the phone asking my late mother an unexpected question, ‘Who am I?’ In the psychic shock of a poisonous relationship I had lost myself. I was unmoored, floating away from both a toxic relationship and self-belief. I had lost the plot.

It was in my mother’s gentle reassurance, her sharing of childhood stories as illustrations of love, that I started, slowly, to believe in myself again. Through stories, she taught me I was a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a person whose life was worth living. I was someone who looked for the light. Somebody who believed; who cared and fought.

You can’t exist, let alone face down your demons, without stories. You can’t build a just, cohesive society – a confederation of respectful communities, families, clans and coalitions – without sharing your yarns and embracing the truths of others.

No-one gets through life on their own, and the journey to spiritual maturity and intellectual honesty is perilous enough without the loss of the stories that enable, that enhance its progress.

Pop culture offers a compelling example in Lin-Manuel Miranda's ‘Hamilton’. Audiences around the world have been entertained and moved by the re-telling of US founding father Alexander Hamilton; the ‘book, music and lyrics’ of  Lin-Manuel Miranda have made productions of Hamilton a must-see giant of the stage.

The drive and ambition of the eponymous rebel comes down to his desire to take his shot and leave his mark.


Let me tell you what I wish I'd known/When I was young and dreamed of glory/You have no control/Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? And when you're gone, who remembers your name?/Who keeps your flame?/Who tells your story?


His story poses a profound question relevant to us all: who tells your story when you're gone? That question is true for all of us. In the end, our story, our legacy, is crafted not in isolation, but in the crucible of community, family, and relationships.

It is here that belief meets action, that our individual stories join the grand, enduring human narrative. This is our shared journey — discovering, shaping, and sharing our unique stories, contributing to the ever-evolving human saga.




Barry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration.

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Story, Life, Tales, Myths, Identity, Community, Family



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Existing comments

Who tells my story? I hope it’s not Reader’s Digest for the important reason that my story may give their readers indigestion. I venture to guess that many people feel their story is pedestrian at best. I know I feel that way and I wince at any relevance I might have. Sometimes though we are drawn into a bigger picture: the indigenous peoples of many lands, the Jews in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, the generations of Genesis. Recently, when I visited Sydney, there were a number of beggars on the street who bowed (or covered) their heads so their faces could not be seen. Maybe their stories need protection.

Pam | 12 July 2023  

If you go to this week's digital edition of Canberra City News, you'll see a front cover banner "Ancestors behaving badly. Nearly two thirds of family historians are distressed by what they find - should DNA kits come with warnings...."

Before my ancestors were Christianised, they would have been Hindus, probably of a caste near the bottom of society, if not an untouchable. I presume that's why the door was opened when Christ knocked. Man does not live by bread alone but a surplus of bread is often very effective in causing a deaf ear to be turned to the Word. And a deficit of bread the opposite.

s martin | 14 July 2023  

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