The Story. I absolutely love good stories – even bad ones sometimes. The very reason I love talking to elderly people is because they are nothing more than a flesh and blood story book. Give an old man 15 minutes of your time and he’ll give you 50 years of his life via storytelling. Many people misunderstand these scenarios – where they feel trapped by a conversational novelist behind the cash register and all they wanted to do was pay for their groceries. You can more than likely resonate with this because we’ve all been there. We have things to do, places to be, people to meet and someone traps us in a face-to-face version of “This is the Story that Doesn’t End.”
My proposal is not simply to listen to old people tell their stories. We need to understand why the generation before us was so prone to telling stories. Not stories of someone else’s fabrication, but their own. Why did they do this and why does the generation after them seem to be out of time to listen?
I believe the reason we have lost the love of conversational storytelling is because we have lost our personal radar for story in our own lives. To say it straight – we don’t see a narrative forming in our lives from day to day, we simply see the mundane.
A Movie and a Madwoman – The Story
One of the worst feelings in the world is getting pumped up from watching a movie on the big screen and then walking out of the theater and remembering real life has been waiting for you. For years I hated that feeling. Having spent the last 2 hours engulfed in the story on-screen I’d forgotten about life. I’d always end up being swept up into a captivating drama (book, movie, T.V. show, etc.) and then once I finished the chapter, book or movie, I’d walk away thinking, “Well, back to the real world where my story is riddled with baby poop, mundane work and over-indulgence in coffee to fight against boredom leading to lethargy.” I felt that way for a long time, that is until my wife did something ridiculous.
Roxanne and I went to the Warren Theater recently to watch the latest showing of Avengers. It was a great movie. Tons of action and special effects, (sidetone, I highly recommend seeing it). When the movie was over we walked to the exit only to discover it was raining – hard. The van (yes, we are minivan owners, this is our life) was a good distance from the door and in a downpour I pull out the chivalry card and pull the vehicle to the door so my wife doesn’t have to get soaked. I suggested this approach but she wanted to see if the rain would let up. So we waited.
Then she told me, “Eh, I’ll be alright. Let’s just go for it.” She pulled her jacket over her head and went for the door and I followed suit. We both made a mad dash through puddles and downpour as we ran to the van. As we climbed in the front seat and shut the doors I noticed a huge smile on her face. She was nearly laughing in fact. I asked what was so funny.
She said, “As we ran through the rain all I could hear was the sound track from the movie in my head and I imagined the rain was out to get me. I, of course, blocked the rain with my jacket-shield (take that, rain!) and skillfully dodged all the puddles of death!”
We both burst into laughter that nearly made us wet our pants…though that wouldn’t have mattered after what we ran through. You have to know my wife. I love her! She is brilliant, but she has never been an imaginative/fantasy fight scene person who places herself in the shoes of a heroine in a battle against good and evil – or – wet and dry, I guess. She is also not the most athletically agile person in the world, so to think of her pretending to be a superhero bounding through a mine field of rain water while we sprinted to the van was ridiculous.
A Radar for Redemption
As we drove away from The Warren, still soaked from our battle against the forces of wetness, I realized something extremely important: my wife redeemed that moment. What for most people was a walk in the rain became a moment of mission and enjoyment for me and my wife. She found the redeeming quality of the moment and lived it out. It was a little ridiculous, I agree – but it was fun. My wife has a radar for redemption.
This is the very thing the people of old have. They knew how to find the value in each moment and live it out. Seeing the value and worth in one’s mundane moments is the means by which our narrative is formed. Finding the purpose in every situation keeps us grounded in the reality that my life is an ever-forming story of redemption and integrity; as long as I engage in it.
Hollywood is not where the best stories are told. We need not “ascribe” value to our lives, we must only find the value already ascribed and walk it out. This is the very act of story-forming; connecting the mundane to the meaning of the moment. I believe the reason our generation doesn’t have time for stories in our lives (other than books or movies) is because we have completely lost touch with the reality that our lives are stories in and of themselves. We drink the cultural kool-aid that says, “A life is only worth sharing if it has certain accessories or social markers.” So we pursue the things our culture values in hopes that one day others (and hopefully ourselves) will find our lives worthy of being shared – a story worth being told. This is the slavery of self-ascribing, trying to force value into a life that already has it.
And so we outsource storytelling to movie producers, authors, T.V. dramas, etc. When others bear the task of telling redemptive stories for the purpose of entertaining it causes us to believe that we lack the necessary properties to experience redemption in the mundane of our personal stories. This is simply not true. We don’t lack the love of stories – we lack the ability to see the integrity taking place in ours. Therefore we look to mainstream media and culture for narratives of hope and absolutely lose the heart for looking at the story board of our own existence.
What’s your Story?
I don’t know where you are right now or if you feel in tune with the story of your life. Are you looking for purpose? Searching for the threads of dignity and hope? There is much to be had in our lives if only we’d take hold of the opportunities and be present. Culture affords so many avenues for distraction and fantasy, but the kind of person whose awareness keenly participates in the ongoing personal story of meaning in the mundane is a dying breed. But let’s be honest, we all know someone who is like this and there’s a chance they’re your hero in some way. Grandparents, parents, devoted mothers and fathers, bakers, window washers, farmers, “simpletons” and the like. These are often the people whose hands are both tough and tender, whose bodies are tired but whose hearts are filled with joy, whose work ethic is second to no one because they spent years paving a way for the ones they loved. These found the story of their lives happening every day all around them – and they decided to participate. Will you?
So the next time you hear an old lady telling a story – listen. She knows what it is to revel in the simple integrity of every day life. As a matter of fact it’s story-worthy and we can learn from people like her. Maybe the next time it rains you should act like it’s going to attack you or something – that’s probably a different post though.