The first week of a new school semester involves a lot of get-to-know-you ice breakers. In my human development class (we’ll be studying young adulthood through end of life), my professor led the class of 30 students through an exercise where we essentially shared our life stories in pairs. I’ve done similar exercises in the past, but it’s been a while. On previous occasions, I’ve had some advance notice to prepare my thoughts, so it was interesting to see what emerged in this spontaneous retelling of my life story.
If it’s true that we gain something from telling our stories (and I believe it is), then we gain even more by retelling our stories. It is good to retell our stories to others, but maybe even more important to do this with ourselves.
It’s natural that a life story is slightly different each time it’s told. As time passes, different things rise to the surface as important. We can comment on painful experiences with more neutrality. Or perhaps events that we had previously brushed aside or minimized now reveal themselves to be pivotal moments that brought us to the present. For me, I feel I can identify shades of gray in the events or people I’ve previously portrayed as black and white. I can recognize how some of my best and worst (or let’s call them “least favorite”) character traits resulted from some of the same formational relationships.
And as time passes, we gain additional pieces of the puzzle. We can recall the fearful seasons when we asked, “What the hell is going to happen if I actually choose _____?” We can say “well, here’s how that worked out. And I wouldn’t (or I would) do it that way again.” We can see that we survived losses we thought we couldn’t, succeeded in areas we thought were out of reach.
Today, I was able to see that I am not quite as lost as I feel some days. That not all wandering is aimless. That there have been other seasons of upheaval that were eventually reshaped into livable space.
Our professor also asked that we include some words about our future as we crafted our stories. Where are you going? What themes do you see, and where are they pointing? What is the arc of your life experience thus far, and where will it take you if you continue on the path you are forging? Today, my unrehearsed answer was free. If I make it to where I hope to go, I will one day be an old woman set free from her fears of “not enough.” Fears that there is not enough giftedness in the world to go around, fears that she does not have enough to care for others and still care for herself, fears that she has not done enough, risked enough, loved enough. My hope is that old woman will let out a deep sigh, content to know that she gave all she had, and there was joy in the giving. Free. Or at least a few steps in that direction.
I hope we can each have the courage to believe in ourselves and where we are going. To trust that we will get there, step by painstaking step, and that even in the moments that feel like colossal mistakes, trust that we are picking up a token we will need further along the way.