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Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’


You are each the hero of your own story

Joseph Campbell
Here I am, in my fish earrings and being all mattery.

I’ve been asking my classes this question for years now. This year I finally have an answer.

Who am I? I am a story: Rather, I am a series of stories. Imagine, if you will, that we are standing together on the front porch of my little house. All the things that make up my life are in my house, but I am more than those things. There’s a story here, a story that begins, “Once upon a time, a woman and her son moved to Milton Freewater. It wasn’t where they wanted to go, but there weren’t a lot of choices. They had to move because the story they had been living in Gresham had become unhealthy and dangerous to their bodies and souls….”

We look to the left, and there is a little brick house, with a younger woman and a younger boy standing out back in front of a door leading into a daylight basement. Water pours out of the door, soaking the woman and boy’s feet and legs. There’s a story in that house, too.

Beyond that stand the burned ruins of a townhouse just outside of Medford, Oregon. A young woman and a baby lived there before the fire.

We walk down the front steps and look down a whole row of houses disappearing into the distance. As we look, we realize that the house next door isn’t the only one with water around it—a river weaves between and around some houses. Some stand in the desert, where there is NO water.

The woman and the boy don’t live alone for much of the time. Other people move into their stories, and tell stories of their own which shape the woman and boy’s stories. Sometimes the stories are happy; sometimes sad.

Understanding who my son and I are now means understanding who we have been in the past. It means knowing the stories in which we lived.

Understanding who my son and I are now means understanding who we have been in the past. It means knowing the stories in which we lived.

Me in the fish earrings, 2022

So who am I? I am the sum of all of my stories. I am also the foundation upon which every story in my future will rest. I build from here, and from now.

But what does this mean in practical terms? What does this tell you about me? Here are a few ways that seeing my life as a story will shape our time together:

I believe things should make sense. If they don’t make sense, I need more information.

I believe life has a beginning, a middle, and an end—but the beginning rests on the foundation of others’ stories. My story, in turn, will serve as part of the foundation of stories yet to come. 

Your story is exactly the same. What does that mean? It means that each of us matter. A lot. I matter to you. You matter to me. That just leaves one question: How will we matter to each other? Because we are here in this room together, our lives have become linked. What will that mean to each of us?

I believe that while we cannot control all of the events that find their way into our lives, we can choose how we use those events in shaping our stories. Joseph Campbell has it partly right: We are indeed the heroes of our own stories—but we can be far more than that. We can be our own storytellers, too—and in choosing how we tell our stories, we choose how we will see our lives. 

Have you ever felt like you were waiting for life to begin? Have you ever experienced something so painful that you thought your life was over? I have.

Again me

We can choose when we see our beginnings. And we can choose when we see our endings. Have you ever felt like you were waiting for life to begin? Have you ever experienced something so painful that you thought your life was over? I have. And yet here I am. And the reason? I’m a part of my son’s story. I’m a part of my community story. And now I’m a part of your story. More important, I’m still exploring my own stories. I’m telling my stories, and in telling them, I’m learning who I am.

And that brings me to the last point I’ll make here—The part of me that sees life as a story has offered me a way of surviving another part of myself. I live with clinical depression and anxiety. Those are part of my story. Learning to understand how those factors became a part of my story, and learning to understand what parts of my story help me to claw my way through those dark times, has been a huge part of understanding not just my story, but my parents’ story, my grandparents’ stories, and even my great-grandparents’ stories. 

 I won’t go into great detail here because I am quite literally writing a series of memoirs and a screenplay on the subject (I told you I was all about the stories), but understanding that part of my story means that I have a set of tools to offer others who grapple with those particular challenges. I’m not any kind of mental health professional. But I am the granddaughter of an amazing man who also grappled with depression and anxiety—and who also saw his life as a story. You’ll hear a lot about my Grandpa. Here’s the first thing you should know. 

 My grandpa was the person who taught me how very important one person can be in another’s life. He taught me that I mattered, that I was an important part of his story. He taught me that when depression and anxiety strike it’s important for all of us to understand that while we might not be able to “fix” those things (if we should even try—and more about that later, too) but we can sit beside each other in the darkness. We can offer a hand in the dark. We can offer our ears. We can offer simple care. We can understand that loving each other means that sometimes we go to dark places together, just so our friends and loved ones, who must travel those dark paths, don’t have to travel alone.

We can understand that loving each other means that sometimes we go to dark places together, just so our friends and loved ones, who must travel those dark paths, don’t have to travel alone.

and me once more

 And the payoff? The last lesson for today? No matter how very final those shadows may feel, they do not have to be the end of the story. If we can hold on, the sun will rise again. The clouds will part. The failed exam will become part of our story rather than our agonizing present. The lost love will become part of our history or herstory—and we will learn to love ourselves and others better for the experience. We will remember that we matter. And that others matter to us.

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