Stories speak to me.
When I watched Before Midnight (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) with Greg last spring, I knew exactly what they meant about how relationships change with the addition of children, aging, and the general difficulties of life.
When I watched The Big Chill years ago, I knew exactly what they meant by each of us needing and finding hope in something.
When I read David Foster Wallace, I am touched in the deepest part of me by his descriptions of depression, watching Roger Federer, being with people, the pain and banality of the extremes of rote work.
Each of us tells a story about our lives, carrying this unwritten autobiography in our hearts and mind, often unaware of the overarching themes we are living out.
Author Jim Loehr has written a book called, The Power of Story: Change Your Story, Change Your Destiny. This book is on my to-read list, but the title is enough for this post, as it explains my beliefs about the story we tell ourselves about our lives.
What I have come to accept about my story is that I get to tell it however I would like to tell it. Take for instance the fact of the story that I broke my leg when I was two years old. That is indisputable, although you would be hard-pressed to find any hospital records from that long-ago time. I was on the neighbor’s slide, climbing up and sliding down again and again. That slide was missing a step, so you had to step up really big to the next step. When my father came home from work and came around the side of the house to the backyard where we all were, I saw him and was so excited he was home. I forgot at that moment that I needed to step up really big, so I stepped into thin air, fell, and ended up with a broken bone.
So far, those are all facts. But it’s what I tell about that story that has such an important impact on my understanding of who I am. What if I conclude that I am clumsy or dumb because I missed that step? What if I conclude that my father intentionally distracted me? What if my story is that I loved my father so much that I was beside myself with joy when he got home? What if I decide that I should never have been on that slide anyway at such a young age?
Add those little interpretive details to story after story after story and eventually we have a big repository of stories that confirm our beliefs about ourselves.
I can’t possibly overemphasize how much there is that we do not know. And because we do not know, we make decisions based on trust. I remember, like it was yesterday, the sight of my dad appearing in the back yard at the end of his work day, and I can remember my excitement at seeing him! Dad was home! My fun dad was home and I knew I’d be laughing and giggling and playing with him that evening.
For awhile in my life, my story was that it’s dangerous to be excited to see someone! (Children are really great at perceiving, but really not great at interpreting.) Little me knew I had experienced some intense pain almost instantly after some intense joy, and concluded that loving someone means I’m going to get hurt really badly.
How has that interpretation influenced me over the course of my life? And how does a new interpretation of that experience change how I see myself and my experience of life in the world?
What about you? What stories are you telling about your life that you would like to revise?
4 thoughts on “N is for Narrative – The Stories that we Tell”
Excellent post Susan! So many of us spend a good portion of our lives living them according to these inner stories which may need revising for us to achieve what we desire.
Good point, WB, and I think plenty of us are not aware of what the stories are our that we can revise them!
I remember the fall from the ladder and I remember the broken leg but I loved reading about how and why it happened. It brought back those happy moments when Dad came in the kitchen door and all you girls screamed, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy is home” and rushed to embrace him. I can still see him him leaning down to gather you all three at once. What a valuable thing to read about your impression of what happened. A treasure trove of memories keeps tumbling out of you. What better reason to write a blog!!
How sweet to be able to read your memories as well, mom. Thanks for reading and for commenting.