Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Narrating your life

You all know I love books, so that's it's not surprising that I often view my life as though it was being written as one. (Sometimes I view my life as a musical, but the spontaneous breaking out in song can prove awkward and somewhat embarrassing to my children.) Since I think it is a helpful way of navigating, let me share what I mean.

Have you ever noticed that some things just sound more palatable when you read about them in books? Reading about hard work, rotten weather, and hardships, if the writing is good, makes these things seem almost appealing, or if not appealing exactly (have you read the descriptions of the cold weather in Farmer Boy?), then at least manageable. Setting aside the obvious reason for this... when we're reading, we're usually somewhere comfortable, another is that we can see these difficulties as part of the bigger story. We know the character needs to get through the hard part to become the person who is at the end of the book. When you can see there is still half a book to go, you know the problems in the middle of the book are still working themselves out.

Our lives are really more similar to a book than we sometimes realize. Our story isn't finished, we may not even be to the middle yet. The Great Author is writing our stories, and what we are going through in the middle of the book is turning us into the people we need to be to reach the end. In the meantime, enjoy the great parade of events and humanity that parade across the pages of your life.

Being able to see your life as a great story can help a lot with attitude. Let's take this winter weather that for those of us in most of the US is starting to wear thin. There are at least two possible scenarios, and I will freely admit to starring in both. The first is to wake up, see the leaden sky, remember there are 6 more inches of snow forecast, think about how unplowed your street is and wonder if this is the snowstorm that your reduces your already reduced from two to one lane street into a bike path (what's a bike, again?) and get up out of bed already grumbling.

Or, how about this...

The day was grey... again, when E. woke that morning. It was good to feel the warm coffee cup in her hands as she pulled the comforter up a bit, trying to wake up. This was always a good moment, before the littles awoke and started making noise, to think about the day ahead. The six inches of snow forecast for later in the day felt a bit much, but at least she didn't need to go out. She idly wondered what exactly the city would do if cars could no longer get through the narrow lane that remained now that the piles of snow caused the street-parked cars to move closer and closer to the center of the street. 

The coffee cup empty, she took a deep breath and got out of bed. As was her habit, she thought about what was for dinner and remembered that beef soup was on the menu. At least it's good weather to have a pot of soup simmering on the stove, she thought. 

Now, the details of both stories are exactly the same, but the way of thinking about them are vastly different. By turning your life into a narrative, you have control over what you focus on, how you view it, and how it affects you. Annoying people? Interesting characters. Things going wrong right and left? Clearly, your story has some comic aspects. Horrible events? Great redemption stories all contain tragedy.

I don't mean to sound flip, but there is an element of truth. Our lives are part of a bigger story. We are not at the end and we do not know what that end will look like. We can embrace the adventure before us, or if not embrace it, at least reframe the circumstances in our lives a bit so that we can see them through a different lens. Think how the events of your life right now would look on a page. Do you like how the main character reacts to the events and people around her? Become a character you would like to read about and admire.

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