Your story will change — but it still needs to be told!
Once, we used mythology to tell the stories of our gods and our origins. Stories were told of heroic acts and dramatic experiences. They explained our past and were used for every purpose imaginable from teaching values to explaining rules. They helped us understand our place in society. And yet these stories were about gods, societies, and groups of people. But what about the individual? What role does the individual’s story have?
Sometimes, a certain story will typically become the slogan for a period in our lives. In the same way that Trump and Brexit defined the world in 2016, certain personal stories articulate our feelings for events and periods of time throughout our lives. But though these stories define a particular period, they are not the sole narrative.
11 years ago I wrote a personal essay on an experience of getting lost in the wilds of Saxony Anhalt, Germany. I remembered it for the poetic expression and story it told. So I checked my records and found it. Below our some excerpts:
As I stepped off in to obscurity today on the rural platform of Scheirstedt in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, I broke forth a smile at the loneliness of the fields before me. I walked a path that I supposed to be correct. […]
There beyond the fields of rape, and wheat, I saw humanity. I felt the history, the clash between East and West in the plain of the Elbe, […] Amazing that people have farmed and cultivated this soil for centuries, and roamed this land for millennia. It was all there in that field of wheat.
And now as I stand upon this lonesome road, I wonder what adventures lay before me and I ponder many other things as well. Will I find an end to the solitude for though I accept it, I surely do not love it. And that path before me, where is it going? And what puzzles and surprises have the comedic Fates laid ensnared to remind me of humility and humanity?
After rereading my work, I see I had a lot to learn. It now seems to be artificial. It was an attempt by a young man to mold himself as a member of the literati without having the proper background for it.
The piece screams of a solitide that did not last. I am now surrounded by people and have meaningful contact with them. The real moral of that story is the narrative changed. The narrative always changes.
But in 2006, my story was one of fascination and solitude. I had just ended a long-term relationship and took the decision to move to Germany and start working as a freelance English teacher. I was traveling four to five days a week to different locations throughout Saxony-Anhalt. I was single and everything was new.
If solitude would be my main story now, then the previous 11 years would have been different. I would not have found an amazing wife nor would I have found some form of job satisfaction.
As we age and gain life experience, our self-definition changes and our story with it. As a child and a teenager and into my college days, my story was my heritage. I told people about my background and how I hoped to achieve the greatness that my forefathers and my father had achieved. I was very content to be my father’s son. My own story was just to be vessel of my family because I had not done anything to merit telling my own story.
But soon after my father’s death on the day after my 22nd birthday, I realized that I had another 50 years in front me and I could no longer just be my father’s son. I had to write my own destiny. So those stories fell into disuse. The stories I told then still hold some nostalgic value but more as a lesson about who I was. Thus the story changed again.
Even our professional story changes. As a student, my future aspirations were the story I told to others. For the past 12 years, my story has been about being an English language professional. This story affirms my graduate degree and the experience I have gained. Now 12 years into the expatriate English lecturer experience, I can only wonder what the next story will be.
Stories matter. They help us understand and cope with the world around us. Personal stories explain why a partner left, or why someone moved away, or even passed away. Other stories explain how the present came from the past and offer lessons for the future. They provide insight into who we are and allow us to look critically at our selves, and offer others a message about who we are. They show how life has transformed us for the better, or for the worse. These personal narratives are our calling cards and they should be cherished and told again and again.