When we think of stories, we often flash back to the ones we read as children that began “Once upon a time…” Or we admire the movies we grew up on. We often do not realize that we all have our own stories just as colorful, engaging, and amazing, if only we’d share them, especially with our families and loved ones.
Think your life story is boring?
There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.~Mark Twain
Too many of us die with our stories inside us (to paraphrase a quote from Wayne Dyer urging us not to die with our music inside us.)
Your life story doesn’t have to be a well-crafted narrative or compelling drama by the world’s standards. It could be a collection of your favorite family recipes with the stories and family traditions that go with them.
Perhaps you’ll enjoy sharing various adventures and narrow escapes you’ve experienced, complete with photos with colorful commentary or amazing artifacts.
A major publisher might insist you leave out some of the details for fear of harming book sales.
But you’re not trying to write a best seller.
You’re writing a best teller.
Are you really the black sheep of the family? No? Then make your case. Lay out your evidence. Start your saga wherever you like. We’re eager to read it.
Perhaps you’ve been labeled Goody Two-Shoes, but you’ve had everyone fooled. Come clean.
Whatever shape your life story takes is completely up to you. You can even write more than one type. What is important is that you start now.
Think you can’t write?
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ~Louis L’Amour
If you can write a letter to a friend, you can write your life story.
Pretend you’re sitting across the table from someone you trust. Use your own words. Answer questions or give details they might ask.
Unless you plan to publish your story, you needn’t be concerned about the scrutiny of a publishing company or the public, although checking for spelling and details will probably be appreciated by all. But that comes after you’ve gotten all your thoughts on paper.
When my kids ask about the day I met their father, for example, I tell them it was a Friday night and I had just gotten settled in after a busy week of teaching junior high kids.I was looking forward to finishing reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X that weekend. Then, my girlfriend Wanda called, begging me to go on a double date.
“Doing what?” Wanda prodded.
Wanda was quick with “Yes you do. How about that green two-piece you just bought?”
That’s the problem with having a close girlfriend. She knows every piece in your closet and won’t hesitate to use it against you during a disagreement.
I will spare you the rest of the saga for now, but you guessed right. I did go out against my will and met my future husband. (Wanda, I hold you fully responsible!)
We went to a lovely jazz club by the beach, I fell asleep on his shoulder on the way home, and the rest is history.
My kids enjoy hearing the saga. They make fun of me for falling asleep on a first date. Oh well, that’s the truth. It was even funnier when my husband would interrupt, inserting his exaggerated version of the evening.
It isn’t a riveting tale, but it’s lots more interesting than saying tersely that we met at church, isn’t it? Of course, we didn’t meet at church, but you get my point, right?
If I don’t write that story, however, my kids may not remember it. My husband is now deceased. And who knows the direction my memory will take. (Does writing about it in this article count?)
Think you have plenty of time?
“The trouble is you think you have time.”~Buddha
As more and more of my family members die, the more I regret they didn’t write their life stories. When I remember them, I realize how few details I know about their lives. Although I spent a lot of time talking to my parents and siblings, many of their stories and details about their lives went with them when they passed.
I’m the last sibling standing in my family, and I must consult my memory when my nieces and nephews ask me about their parents. That is not a good strategy since I can only share from my perspective and questionable memory, which I’m positive is vastly different from my siblings’ versions, if only we had them.
Even when my 40-year old son died of a massive heart attack in 2016, I was struck by how many of his thoughts, beliefs, goals, dreams, and values I didn’t know and no longer had access to. Fortunately, he had written many poems and kept a few journals that helped me to get to know him a bit better after his death. (If only he hadn’t written them in hieroglyphics, although my oldest grandson swears he’ll be able to transcribe them.)
Will your obituary be fiction?“It’s like obituaries, when you die they finally give you good reviews.”~Roger Maris
As we sadly watch the death toll rising as COVID-19 hitchhikes its way around the globe, I think about the many rich life stories we’re losing.
Before you take comfort in thinking that at least we have their obituaries, high school yearbooks, and vacation photos, don’t.
Those are sometimes flat, fictional fantasies. Each time one of my relatives sends me an obituary to edit before rushing it to the funeral home to be printed in the funeral program, I shriek, “Who wrote this?”
One niece had promoted her mother from worker bee to queen bee at every place she had ever worked. What?
Another first draft of a funeral program had confused the relationships of one to another.
And then there was the program that listed a child I had never heard of. (Although after inquiring, I learned that just because I hadn’t heard of the child didn’t mean she didn’t exist.)
Perhaps none of these things happened in your family.
Here’s my point.
Who will tell your story?
“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” ~Lin-Manuel Miranda, playwright
We can usually get the details of birthdate, birthplace, and cause of death from official documents. (But even those are sometimes guesses.)
When you make time to write your own life story, we learn how you felt, what you valued. You get to be the hero of your own story.
Your family will get to meet you through your stories in a way they will never get to know you in hundreds of casual conversations over the years.
If you are brave enough to be authentic, they’ll read your words, your habit of saying “Dammit!” not “Oh, darn!”
Your unhappy childhood memories are important because they teach lessons.
You may not be the kind of person who likes to journal. However, you may love putting your thoughts in poetic form. Write them down.
But these are not the only reasons to write your life story.
Write your story for yourself
“When the legacy you leave behind lasts for hours, days or a lifetime, you matter.” ~Seth Godin
You get to know you. Sometimes you don’t know what you think until you begin to write it. Fuzzy beliefs become clearer. Unexamined ideas unfold and become fully formed.
You review your life from a distance where you can sometimes forgive yourself and others or be proud of how you handled tough situations. You begin to see yourself in a clearer light.
If you’re honest, you may see patterns in your choices that explain the paths you’ve taken and be grateful for the paths you did not take.
In your journey of self-discovery, you will revisit some events that brought you joy and will have fun reliving those.
Some other memories will cause pain and bring up shame. From this view, however, you have an opportunity to reframe and redistribute how much power you want to give these memories in the present.
Why you’re the best person to write your life story
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”~~Chinese proverb
Don’t hesitate any longer. The best time to get started on your story is now.
Your story is a form of tribal communication that reaches into the future, connecting you to future generations, passing on evidence of your resilience, and inspiring them with the meaning your life had for you and now for them.Your great grandkids will get to know how much you were looking forward to hearing your family cheer as you crossed the stage at your high school graduation — until the COVID19 pandemic of 2020 upended graduation, prom, sports, and all the other activities that make the senior year of high school special and memorable.They will learn about what you did instead during the mandatory lockdown.
They can get the dry facts from news coverage, but only you can give them the deep sadness and disappointment of having your senior photo taken on the empty track where you never got to compete for the 1600-meter state record as you had planned.
That way, when you pass on, you will be dead but your story won’t. You will live to be introduced to family members who have not been born yet. They will be thrilled to learn about the everyday routines you think are dull, the accomplishments you take for granted, and adversities you overcame.
Best of all, you will discover as you write your story, as will they, that you were a real person, multidimensional, with quirks, flaws, and strengths.
And that once upon a time, what made you different made you admirable and memorable.