Stories our lives tell us

This little video from Brian Andreas is a good reminder that we constantly edit our lives. So we might as well edit them in a way that gives us joy and a sense of accomplishment and possibility. Otherwise we’re just dragging around a heavy bag of regret, shame, guilt, disappointment, and all those other stones that invariably drop into our lives.

The editing is a daily event. Something happens. We tell friends about it. Some parts of the story work. Others fall flat. Unless we’re completely oblivious to the reactions of others, we make mental notes of what worked and what didn’t, where people’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion, when they lost interest, and the times they were leaning forward as if they were gobbling every word we uttered.

Next time we pull out that story, we spin a version influenced by the first telling…or the first ten tellings. Eventually we settle into a version we’re happy with.

At that point additional edits are only slight tailorings for specific audiences. The story line and chosen details remain pretty much the same, and we carry that story around just waiting for an opportunity to share it.

Of course, some stories stop working for us. We move on, choose a new way of looking at our life, forgive our nemesis. So we drop the story from our repertoire or subject it to major revisions.

Ivan Doig turns it around in a way that delights me in Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. He writes: “Memories are stories our lives tell us.”

Of course, stories do more than help us figure out who we are at any given time. They also create—or divide—community. Harold Rosen once wrote:

It is an interesting feature of personal storytelling that it usually sets in motion a sequence of stories. Tell a hospital story and you will provoke others, just as jokes beget jokes. If you analyse a sequence of this kind you will almost always discover that, far from being a random collection, they constitute an endeavor to reach a collective understanding of some important theme like fear, courage, loss of eccentricity. ~ Harold Rosen, “Stories At Work”

That makes the stories we tell even more important. We live them, exchange them, and try to pair them with other stories in a never-ending dance. And how we tell them makes a difference, in our own lives, to our families and friends, and to the larger community.