Recently, my mom sent me a picture of my grandmother at my wedding. The wedding was in 2001, my grandma passed away a few years later. I was 22 years old the day I got marred. What in the world did I know about myself, let alone marriage?! Anyway, that’s another story for a different day… In the picture, my grandma was standing up clapping her hands, smiling – glowing from the inside out.
She was so happy! I looked at the picture and I thought, “Oh, Grandma! Look at you! Dancing and clapping! I miss you!” That was the most beautiful dress she owned in her entire life. Ultimately, she was buried in that dress. I am honored to have given her that experience, and to have shared it with my family and friends.
The marriage ended in divorce 14 years later. Now, I could have easily looked at the picture and attached my story to it. I could have said, “Ugh! Mom! Why did you send me this picture? I don’t want to think about my wedding! The day was so stressful, followed by 14 stressful years! If only I had known then what I know now, bla bla bla….”
Both stories are true. However, just as you and I experience the sunrise and sunset everyday, intellectually we know the sun never stops shining. Both are true, both seem to cancel each other out. Here’s the truth: both are matters of perspective.
My grandma’s experience was real, and so was my eventual divorce. Focusing on one story makes me happy, while focusing on the other makes me suffer.
Our Story Becomes Our Identity
Our stories have the power to determine the course of our lives. This is true because we attach our identity to our stories. They become the lens through which we see the world. If one story makes me feel good and the other makes me feel bad, I have the freedom to choose which story I focus on. In the past, I would have suffered. But that is not who I am anymore.
As we ruminate over our stories, we infuse them with energy and power. Have you ever spoken with someone who tends to go on and on about the many painful stories of their past? They can’t wait to share it with you or anyone else who will listen. Why is this? Because their stories have become their identity.
Stories Are Like Viruses
Like a virus, a story requires your life force in order to stay alive. This is not a mystical idea. Think about stories like, “The Lord of the Rings”. This 1940s book series was made into a movie trilogy in the early 2000s. At that point, millions of people around the world breathed new life into a story that was more than 50 years old. If those movies had not been produced, the stories would have continued to fade into a long forgotten history…
How about the movie, “The Color Purple”? In my family, this story has lived on ever since I can remember. We laugh and joke as we reference “Miss Ceilie” and “Miss Sophia” on a regular basis. The story is an integral part of our lives, even though we may not consciously think about it.
If you’re familiar with The Color Purple, think about when Miss Ceilie gained her mental, emotional, physical and spiritual freedom… it was when she no longer saw herself as a shell of a woman, destined to live and die in the confines of an abusive marriage. When she learned to love and accept herself, everything in her life changed. Her infamous line gives me chills when I think about it:
“I’m poor, I’m black, I may even be ugly, but dear Lord, here I am! Here I am! “
Releasing the Need to Be Our Story
When we shed our willingness to suffer, we begin transforming from the inside-out. If we catch a glimpse of what our lives could be like without the story of our past, then we have the potential to see a totally different life than the one we have been living. The stories that have controlled us begin to shift and reframe around our new identity. Perseverating on the past with sadness and regret causes suffering. Is that what you want? To suffer? Realize the past only exists in our hearts and minds now – as a story. The only power our stories have over us today is the power we give to them.
What is your story? You know the one…. the one that has defined you right up until this moment. As you journal, think about the answer to this questions: “Who could I be without my story?”
May I have the will to see things differently. May I remember who I really am, without my story.