Readers' stories embrace the Great Journey

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 12, 2003

"He'll say over a truly heavenly cappuccino: 'We enjoyed each other's stories very much, didn't we?'"

"You like my stories."

I've thought a lot about those four words recently. They were some of the last words Don Cooke of Ghost Lake Village said to me before he passed away March 2. (Don was the subject of last week's column, "The man who talked with whales and beavers.")

In preparation for his own memorial service, Don had called me to his bedside and wondered if I'd be one of the speakers.

"I'd be honored. But why me?" I asked.

"Because you like my stories," he responded.

And you know, I did. I loved his stories. And I've been delighted to share them, not only at his memorial service, but in print as well.

The honor Don paid me has caused me to appreciate anew why I'm so in love with life, and especially why I'm so in love with life here in the Bow River Valley. It's all about story, about your stories – beautiful stories, brave stories, sad stories, happy stories; stories passionate in their embrace of the Great Journey.

The first story I can ever remember hearing as a very young child is the one that begins: "This little piggy went to market." My mother and sisters loved to tell it to me over and over as they pinched each of my toes in turn, ending gleefully with: "This little piggy cried, 'Wee, wee, wee,' all the way home."

Fortunately, it wasn't long before Mom introduced me to stories with – what shall I say, more engaging?– plots. After my Saturday night baths, she'd dress me for bed, hold me in her lap, and read from Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and The Swiss Family Robinson.

Following the Second World War, Dad brought home a nifty new radio. I became addicted to the latest episodes of Roy Rogers, Sky King, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his wonder dog King. I well remember sitting on the floor in front of the radio cutting out program scenes from the backs of cereal boxes while listening to the shows.

There was one series of radio stories, however, that had a particularly profound influence on me.

One winter while at home sick with a full-meal-deal of childhood diseases – measles, mumps, chicken pox; you name it, I think I had it – I began listening to broadcasts of Fulton Oursler's The Greatest Story Ever Told. This was a thrilling dramatization of the life of Jesus. And a half-century later, I'm sure it's because of that program that there remains no greater story I'd rather be told – or retell – anytime, anywhere.

But you are part of that story. It is through your words over countless cups of coffee and around many friendly campfires that I'm beginning to understand a little of what that great story means about being truly human, truly alive – a people beloved and loving.

I happened to mention this to our e-mail coffee companion, Fred Nordby, of Red Deer. He responded with reference to a very popular writer on the topic of story in spirituality:

"I like your comments on stories," he said. "I read a lot of Eugene Peterson, and he makes much of the importance of 'story' – that each of our lives is a story within the 'Grand Story;' and there are, of course, stories within our 'story.' God is the 'Grand Author' and 'life is in the details.'"

This made sense to me. So I told Fred an idea I had for the epitaph on my tombstone when I, too, go the way of all flesh. And just what would I like others to say about me?

"He liked our stories."

Fred replied, "Yours is a good epitaph. I can say that we, too, like your stories very much."

Now that I've thought more about it, I guess what I'm really looking forward to is the day when I meet the Grand Author Himself. Maybe – just maybe – He'll say over a truly heavenly cappuccino:

"We enjoyed each other's stories very much, didn't we?"

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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