It all comes down to this: There are a lot of stories to choose from, and many of them make the world a smaller and darker place. I can live in a story told by others about me, the story of someone who has no right to demand or intrude. I can live the only child story, the eldest child, the middle child, the youngest child story. I can take on the I’m always right story or the I can’t be wrong story. I can define myself in the story of the put-upon, overlooked, neglected victim left to press his nose against the window of the restaurant of life while those inside dine to their heart’s content, ordering what they will from a menu devised for them by a universe that plays favorites. I can hide in the story of designated scapegoat, the malignant black sheep, expected to run riot and bring collateral damage to all around me. I can fine-tune the entitlement story, the martyr story, the underappreciated saintly spiritual giant story, the wounded bird story, the distant intellectual story, the stoic story, the emotional disaster story, the care too much story, the I-don’t-give-a-rip story, and so on.
I am the story I tell myself. Of course I’m also my history, the sum total of the decisions, circumstances, and accidents that lump up all together to make up what I laughingly call my past. I can’t change my history; les jeux sont fait and all that, but I’m increasingly aware that I can change my story.
The facts of the story are bound to remain the same; I still begin in the same place and end up here, writing on an April morning in Oregon after stops of various lengths in Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Massachusetts, Switzerland, Alabama, and California. I’m still married to the same wonderful person and still a doting parent to three wonderful (now adult) children.
But, you know, facts are just facts. The story I tell myself is all about the lens through which I consider these allegedly inviolable facts. It may be helpful at this point to announce that I’m not about to descend into a “Power of Positive Thinking” lecture, not that I have an issue with positive thinking, but rather that this exercise has to do with ways of being, not stratagems or advantaged outcomes. I’m also not proposing puppies and kittens, wide-eyed, gosh and golly, everything is just peachy and exactly the way it is supposed to be, unexamined, flatline, brain numbing self-satisfaction.
Some of my story I will tell to others; some of it will remain unspoken. Unedited, it is the program that runs constantly in the background, reminding me of what and who I think I am. As Descartes ought to have said: “I think, therefore I am… I think”, and I hardly know what to think. I think I’ve been exceedingly fortunate, occasionally graceful, frequently thoughtless, and often petulant. The story I tell myself today is about latching on to the intimations of what a fairly limited human such as I can do to treat the universe with care, hoping to act in ways that do no harm, and taking responsibility for my choices and my emotions.
That’s not the most gripping yarn, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it … until it’s time to change.