Monday, August 8, 2011

Simple Suggestion #53/100... Tell stories

Five years ago, my dad gave me a wonderful gift. He wrote his "memoirs," the story of his life before we came to Edmonton when I was nine. I was thrilled to read his account of growing up on the prairies, moving to Saskatoon, attending school and college, meeting my mom, having a family and starting his career. Now I'm just waiting for him to continue with the story of his life as a small business owner, philanthropist, volunteer, musician, and golfing and curling star... hey, Dad?

Stories are so important to who we are. Reading my dad's story helped me to understand a few things about him -- and myself by association -- in a way that I hadn't before. The events of our lives shape us and our way of thinking and being -- to the point that we can look back in history and connect the dots of those past events to the present moment. But if we don't give a thought to our stories, do the dots get connected? Was it Seneca who said, "the unexamined life is not worth living"? Maybe he knew that sharing a story was one way of examining life, holding a moment up for others to see, and seeing it from a new angle ourselves.

This morning I went back to work at L'Arche and heard some wonderful stories from a friend who is just back from Trosly, France, and a retreat with Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche. The story of L'Arche has been told and retold by Jean since the first home for people with and without disabilities was founded on August 5, 1964. In the retelling of that story, L'Arche communities have been founded around the world, communities built on Jean Vanier's understanding that people matter most and that every person has a gift to share with others whether they have a visible disability or not (many of us hide our disabilities). My friend feels very blessed to have heard the story again, and reports that its message is still as strong and inspiring as ever.

Of course, not all stories are equal.  Even so, less inspiring tales of frustration, joyful anecdotes and humourous tidbits reveal that we are all human and have much in common. Telling stories is a way to connect, to empathize, to rejoice, to entertain. As a writer, I love to entertain with both written and spoken word. I had a lot of fun at lunch today regaling my friends with the story of my adrenaline rush (see yesterday's moodling). I'll probably never go on a rollercoaster like that again, but my quaking knees certainly made for a good story (especially if you know what a calm person I usually am!)

In telling our stories to others, sometimes we discover more about who we are, as Donald Miller did. He was invited to "edit" his life story for a movie screenplay, and... well, ended up writing a funny, quirky, touching and inspiring book about the experience called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing my Life (2009, Nelson. ISBN 9780785213062). I guess you could say that Don became more of the person he wanted to be by paying closer attention to his story. If you haven't read it, it's a perfect treat anytime.

So, rather than letting the TV or internet tell me stories that demand passive spectators, perhaps I'll be an active participant in sharing my own oral history with someone today, as human beings have from the very beginning. If I imagine my own story as a narrative being passed on to generations to come, perhaps I'll discover what's really important. Telling a story is a simple activity that costs nothing but breath and voice, wastes no natural resources, exercises awareness, memory and intellect, and creates community.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

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