Instead, it’s an invitation to wonder about the stories we tell of our own lives.
Let me tell you about a few people I have met over the last 20 years or so.
There was one woman who always made me laugh. Whenever I met her, she had a new tale of calamity and mishap – a navigational failure that had got her into trouble, or a DIY attempt that had gone badly awry. I always warm to someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. But I did start to wonder, after a while, what it’s like to always be the inept clown, and why that role was where she so consistently placed herself. She was a very able, thoughtful caring woman, but that side of her was mostly hidden behind the fool she portrayed herself to be.
Or how about a man who was the victim of every story. When he lost a job, it couldn’t be that a short term, seasonal contract was ending, it was because the manager had taken an unreasonable dislike to him. If a neighbour did something that caused him inconvenience, it was a personal vendetta, rather than absent-mindedness. If there was a way of interpreting a situation, so that he was the victim, that was how he would shape the story.
Then there was the woman who had many stories to tell about her family. They were always the ones who are thoughtless and inconsiderate. She was the put-upon one who had to pick up the pieces. She was Cinderella in rags, but her fairy godmother never came.
Or maybe you know people who live their lives as a quest. They are chasing a dream, waiting to be talent-spotted, or to find their ideal role, but never getting there – always seeking the promised land, they never settle for what they have or where they are.
I have so many questions about stories – the ones we tell and the ones we seek out, told by others.
What stories do we tell about our own lives?
It’s easier to see the stories that others tend to tell about themselves – the sort of protagonist they tend to cast themselves as. But it’s harder to do it for myself. We are too close to our own lives. If my life were turned into a film, would I be the maverick, defying authority and winning through by my unconventional ways? Or would I be the Ugly Duckling who turned out to be a Swan? What would my happy ending look like? How would the audience know when I’d reached it? Would the story end with my enemies defeated on the floor? When my handsome prince sweeps me off my feet? When the warring factions find peace at last?
Could we tell different stories about our lives? Is it that big a leap from a tragedy to a comedy? Could we tell the same stories but cast ourselves as a different type of hero? I think we probably could, if we only saw the possibilities. That’s been one of the things that mindfulness and counselling have started to make me more aware of.
And what about all the stories that surround us film, TV and books? What about the stories that different news sources tell us about our world?
What type of heroes do we choose to spend time with, as we browse the list of channels? What sort of stories most captivate and satisfy us? If we looked at which moments in a story most stir our emotions, (most reliably make us cry?) would it tell us something about ourselves and who we aspire to be?
What is it that stories do to us? I don’t quite know – but I know stories can touch us, stir us and change us at some fundamental level. At least, they can make us want to change and help us to believe that somehow we can.
And what do we do with Bible stories? Do we reduce them to something for kids – simple stories with brightly coloured pictures? Do we boil them down to a nice easy truth, like one of Aesop’s fable with a tidy moral message attached. Or can we engage with them on deeper, more personal, more complex levels? And what might that look like, if we tried?
I find I return to these questions over and over again. I don’t quite know how to explore them further, but I am keen to do that. If you’ve read this far, and you have any ideas on that, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, comments or recommendations for books/websites/people who are looking at this stuff. Give me your thoughts, however half-baked, I’d love to hear them.