We all live inside of stories. Where we were born, who we were born to. How our own stories turn out can depend a lot on where they begin.

Your family has a story too, as does your town and your nation. The Irish national story is a sweeping epic of colonialism and resistance, of exploitation and forbearance.

It's a tale to rivet anyone who hears it, and thanks to our great writers, it's told all over the world now.

Our story reminds us that our Irish ancestors often came to this country in various states of distress. Some were given American wakes in the 19th century and not expected to be seen again.

Some arrived in disease-filled coffin ships packed tight in their narrow berths and fainting from malnutrition and often heartbreak. And some came, it must be remembered, with light hearts, having finally wrested the opportunity to thrive in a land of freedom so unlike the one they'd been forced to flee.

The long story of the English conquest and exploitation of Ireland had run for centuries. It shaped how they saw we saw own country, it shaped how they saw its future, and it shaped so many of their decisions to leave.

I grew up on the shore of Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal. It's the deepest fjord in Europe and the locals call it the lake of shadows. Since the light on the water there changes from minute to minute, it gave me my first lesson in aesthetics, but there were other shadows out there on the water.

Out on that lough 400 years earlier on September 14, 1607, Hugh O'Neill, the earl of Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell, the first earl of Tyrconnell, and about 90 of their followers left Ulster for mainland Europe. Their Irish story had run out. It was the last farewell of the old Gaelic aristocracy, an event that became known as the Flight of the Earls.

That full stop ruptured the fabric of Irish history and society. How they lived and loved and who they were to Ireland for centuries was lost to us, and is as irrecoverable as Atlantis now.

Another more powerful nation had imposed its national narrative and even the language that I'm now writing in upon us. They would make no room for the Irish story they were attempting to eradicate.

In Ulster this week bonfires are being lit from Co. Antrim to Co. Down to commemorate long ago battles that matter little to the larger European narrative now. For the loyalist community they matter enormously, however.

Those burning pyres, on which they place cartoon effigies of the people and stories they reject, are an opportunity to renew their self image, a way of retelling the story of who they are to themselves.

There were the victors, there were the vanquished. The old score cannot change no matter how much the world changes around them.

Some stories reach out to the world for connection, and some reject the world and send out warnings instead. Which story you're a part of will shape how you live alongside your neighbors, and the respect you afford them or the respect you withhold.

So stories are powerful, and they have to be esteemed, because they live on inside us, because people are stories too.

Most people pay attention to their own stories and often pay little or none to others. Parallels that might help them understand something foundational about human life can be overlooked if the other stories seem to threaten the dominance of one narrative over another.

Last week it looked like America's national story was coming apart at the seams. Competing and often mutually excluding stories were instead rubbing each other raw.

In the vacuum that has opened between them our nation has unwittingly given the floor to a group of isolated, dispossessed and powerless young men who all appear to be harboring murderous resentments and easy access to assault weapons.

Their targets are often the most vulnerable, outliers like immigrants and gays. It's an old playbook, attack the weakest to undermine the strongest.

It appears to be working. A dangerous crack opened in American civic life last week.

In a time when we need to hear that America's story is one of cooperation with all and a welcome to all, when history is asking us to reach out rather than shelter in place, some of our loudest leadership is talking about building walls rather than bridges.

They are dividing us by race and religion rather than uniting us. They are elevating some and denigrating others.

The story they are telling is disruptive to our unity. Last week was a preview of where they will take us if their story wins.

"They are dividing us by race and religion rather than uniting us. They are elevating some and denigrating others."iStock