My husband stuck his head into my (so-called) home office last week to tell me that Stuart McLean had died. "What? No!" I declared. The thoughts that went through my mind went a bit like this: This was supposed to be a bump in the road, not the end of the road--that's what Stuart told us. And But, we didn't get to say goodbye! (Which, of course, is a bit crazy, since I'd never actually met the man).
In the days since, I've found the tears well up in my eyes whenever I think about it. My own sadness catches me by surprise; I've lived through other famous people's deaths without this same kind of grief. So what is it about this death that feels different?
Stuart Mclean had a way of telling stories that spoke to our deepest humanity, acknowledging our imperfections, while, at the same time, calling forth goodness. In the stories of Dave and Morley, he created a world where we recognize ourselves as we are and as we want to be. We laugh, sometimes while cringing, as we listen to the consequences of a character's weaknesses or misjudgments unfold. And then, after we have laughed so hard our sides hurt, we find ourselves reflecting on relationships and family, community and forgiveness.
McLean seemed to find beauty wherever he happened to be. I once commented to my husband that I found myself wanting to visit every place Stuart McLean described. I remember feeling nostalgic for the beginning of summer in cottage country...a season in a place I've never been...because of the way it was described on the Vinyl Cafe. But his descriptions of place weren't naive; he picked up on the quirks and hardships of the towns and cities he visited, and he wove these into his writing. He told of the people he had talked to at a book store or a restaurant, and you knew he had somehow put his finger on the pulse of that town.
I think this death feels different because somehow his stories became part of our stories and we became a part of them. They were stories that buoyed us up and pushed us to look for the good and the beautiful around us.
When our storytellers die, it feels like their stories end, too.
In this morning's sermon, the pastor said that when people find themselves in a foreign or hostile land, they tell stories to remember who they are.
These days in which we find ourselves can feel like a hostile and foreign land. Anxiety and anger, division and suspicion are our new landscape. How do we make sense of ourselves and our future? How do we, as my friend Annie recently asked in her blog, keep our hearts soft when the world is so hard?
One way is that we keep telling stories of hope and life and love. We keep telling stories that are honest about our brokenness, but also draw out beauty. When our storytellers die, and we feel like a bit of beauty has died with them, we keep telling their stories, or, at the very least, the type of stories they would have told.
To those of you who tell stories of hope and beauty in the way you live, in the words you speak and write, in the ways you interact with your family and neighbours: thank you. We need more storytellers like you.
And to Stuart McLean: Thank you for your stories, your insights, the laughter and the tears. We will keep telling your stories.
Here is just one (of many) Vinyl Cafe stories I have loved: Sam's Birthday
Who are your favourite storytellers? IF you, too, are a fan of Stuart McLean, what are some of your favourite stories of his?