Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Discovering Our Own Story (that means YOU)

Geoff and Maggie, at home in Bradenton
1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139)

Every day I find more great stories to tell. Currently I'm right in the middle of telling the church story (yesterday's post); each Wednesday I publish the story of another local resident in the newspaper; I'm showcasing a number of huge stories in my upcoming book; I share new stories every day via this blog... and - yesterday - I started work on the task of helping my brother, Geoff, begin to tell his story.

You don't have to be famous to have a story. Fact is we all have one worth sharing, and there are many ways to go about the task. Your story could be told via a series of conversations, a biography, an autobiography, a journal, a blog, a movie, a scrapbook, a collection of letters, a play, a series of recordings... so many options.

Maggie listening in
But, regardless of how we proceed, I believe it's important that each one of us find people and communities where we can safely allow others to read (and comment on) our ongoing narrative like an open book. Sometimes that simply means being more deliberately open and honest with our spouse or our family; sometimes that means sharing our ongoing story with friends; sometimes that means being part of a support group. We're not all going to have our life translated into a "Lifetime movie" and discussed on Oprah... but that doesn't mean we have to remain anonymous to the people who love us.

My brother Geoff wanted to know where to begin. He said it sounded tedious to go back to 1954 (when he was born) and work forward in a chronological line. I told him there are countless ways to frame a personal history; there are so many potential lenses to look through, so many apparently important things that don't have any place in a memoir, and so many seemingly insignificant events that turn out to be the life-blood of the tale.

And so I did what I do - I asked him some questions, as if I were interviewing him, which I was.

Geoff making tea yesterday, in his home
"Here's what's fun and interesting about a good interview," I said:
  1. You don't really know what you're going to say until I ask you some questions.
  2. And I don't know what questions I'm going to ask you until you begin to talk.
He was certainly right about the beginning being seldom the best place to start. Now I can guarantee we'll end up back at the beginning at some point, but the telling of the story will instruct us as to when.

The launch: "Let's pretend I don't know you," I said. "Let's pretend I'm a writer from The New Yorker Magazine and I ask you this question... Please tell me about a landmark event, an episode at any time in your life, something that represents who you are? What event comes to mind when you think 'Geoff Writ Large'?"

The question surprised me. It's not usually on my list. But good conversations are like that. Regardless, Geoff was ready. He jumped on it in an instant.

"Hannah's wedding," he said (Hannah is his daughter). And he talked about why the wedding came to mind. The result was about ten minutes or so of free-flowing monologue punctuated by only the smallest of prompts. I realized immediately that this could well be exactly where my brother's story begins.

We are writing our own story every day
So I wonder, where does your story begin? What event could be the looking glass through which you might tell the story of your life?
There's no such thing as a life without a story. The real question is, do you even know your own?

1 comment:

Jackie said...

I love learning the stories of others! My favorites are those stories that give me a clearer picture of the Author.