Your Roar, Our Story
"It's not the roar that makes the lion, it's the pride." This is the conclusion at which musician Benjamin Scheuer arrives after taking us on his coming-of-age journey. Only in his early thirties, Scheuer has already gone through multiple trials, each one aggressively testing his mettle. But he's come out the other side and he's sharing his strength with us in a one-man show, The Lion.
Though Scheuer recorded some of his story with his band, Escapist Papers, he and director Sean Daniels recently presented The Lion in a small, intimate theatre in Manhattan. (It will play in London later this summer, and in Portland, OR, next spring.) As I sat rapt in Scheuer's journey, I thought about the way in which he was sharing his experience. He was telling a story. He was combining storytelling, family, and love, which make up our collective past, present, and future. By telling stories, surrounding ourselves with family, and loving, we survive as a people. This seems Jewish.
Jewish education starts and ends with storytelling, and it carries over into daily Jewish life and practice. For example, every year we are charged with telling the Passover story. To this point, Peninnah Schram notes in Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another that there is much to be gained in hearing the same story over and over, for "the stories change as we grow wiser with each hearing and as we ourselves change."
But the Passover story (and Scheuer's), are full of hardship and struggle. There is dramatic action; there is intrigue; and there are high stakes. With such epic stories already in the canon, should we continue to tell our own, personal stories?
This is a question with which I've often struggled. As a writer, I look for conflict. It's what drives plots and engages people, whether in the form of a song, a book, a theatrical presentation or just a conversation. When I read public figures' memoirs, for example, I think, "My life is not interesting enough to fill a memoir. There's no point in telling my story." I always believed that to tell the story of a young adult who has led a fairly typical life, one without exceptional hardship (thankfully) and without exceptionally lucky breaks, would be to tell a story that doesn't add anything.
But what I learned from Scheuer, and, upon reflection, the history of the Jewish people, is that I'm wrong. Each person's story is worth telling because it is part of our shared experience. Sholom Aleichem knew this when he recorded his stories; Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick also knew this when they presented Aleichem's stories in a different form (that would be Fiddler on the Roof); and now Scheuer, with his guitars and charm, carries on the tradition by sharing his stories in a way that connects with today's audiences.
And that's important because our stories - your story, my story, your cousin's story - add something, however big or small. They add our story, and that's the point of telling them. History - both Jewish and secular - is a collection of stories, and each person's contribution matters. Schram says our stories "are a treasure house of intuitive wisdom about human nature and the world," and so telling stories is how we endure. Benjamin Scheuer is right. It's not the roar that makes the lion; it's the pride. It's all of us.