Invitation to Story
by Fiona Heath
“The universe is made up of atoms and stories, woven together.”
Everybody has a story.
And we so often don’t hear those stories, the stories that matter. The stories not just of what we did, but why we did what we did. The stories that we tell to ourselves – and maybe not anyone else – that shape our identity. The stories of our lives, the events both great and small, which define us.
The writer Isak Dinesen says “To be a person is to have a story to tell”. When I first left an ecological apprenticeship program in Northern Saskatchewan, it was with a great sense of failure. The program had imploded through a lack of leadership, the isolation and the poverty. I told myself I was a failure. That it had been a stupid thing to even try. Another dumb, poorly thought out choice. I told myself that I wasn’t cut out for adventure.
I mocked the families who had shared their farms with us. In my stories, it became a comic misadventure, populated by eccentric farmers with outhouses and bad teeth. I didn’t mock my fellow participants though. I could have, because we were all eccentric to one degree or another. But I did not. Out of solidarity, yes, but that solidarity arose because I knew their most intimate stories. One woman had had to grow up quickly because of her mother’s mental illness. Another was afraid her strong principles were alienating her friends. By holding each other’s stories we became, in a way, obligated. In being honest in our storytelling, we had created a sense of responsibility, a sense of care. Not that it meant we were any kinder or nicer to one another on a daily basis, but we were perhaps more tolerant, forgave more easily. Knowing someone’s stories builds connections between you. When you hear in their story an echo of your own, they become more real to you.
We live in a society that is often superficial, obsessed with internet quizzes, and starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. It is hard to get past the small talk of weather and the traffic. Once there is a connection, once you have really heard someone`s story, it is harder to treat them like an object or a problem. It is hard not see them as a fellow human being.
This month, as the days draw in and the cold puts out its chilling roots, we turn to thoughts of story. Not just the stories that we tell about ourselves, but the stories that shape us. The family narratives, the cultural narratives, the religious stories that shape how we understand ourselves, society and the universe. Unitarian Universalism encourages us to examine the stories we are told and choose for ourselves what fits. This isn’t easy, especially when it may involve rejecting long held beliefs. or hurting family, but it does empower us to choose what matters to us.
When I first left the program in northern Saskatchewan, I felt like a failure. And I lived that out for a few years, being afraid to take risks, second guessing every decision in case it was another stupid one. But I tell a different story now. The program was a failure, I was not. I was unkind and careless at times. I handled conflict with little grace. But I was also funny. I was helpful, kind most of the time. I baked a great loaf of bread. And I realize now that I was loved, even at my weakest and worst, by my companions.
This month, I encourage you to consider what kind of stories you tell about yourself and the world. Consider also, what stories shaped your understanding of yourself? Have you outgrown any of these stories? What stories do you need now?
November 01, 2019
November 01, 2019
November 01, 2019