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The story of my life

February 3, 2012
Stories, reading, grandmother

My mother reading to Carl

When I was little, maybe seven or eight, I asked my mother, “What would you do if I died?” She stopped what she was doing and said thoughtfully, “Well, I would be very, very sad. I’d be as sad as a mother can be. But I wouldn’t die of it. I’d have to keep living my own life, even though I would always miss you.”

My mother wasn’t, and isn’t, perfect, but gosh, she was amazing at listening to me and responding with wisdom when I was sad or anxious. That answer was very satisfying to me, then and now, and clearly made a big impression because I can still remember where we were with almost photographic clarity. I knew in a very deep way that she was telling me the real truth. She didn’t wave off the question, and she didn’t talk down to me. It was somehow reassuring to know she really loved me, but that she was strong enough to live without me.

As I spent some quality time with my seminary classmates in January, and as I begin to imagine working as a student hospital chaplain this coming summer, I have been thinking and talking with people about some of the big worries and troubles we each have to face at various point in our lives. What DO we do when people we love get very sick, or when they die? What do we want from others when we are experiencing that kind of trauma? Why can’t life just be nice all the time?

My first minister used to say, often, that the universe was unfolding exactly as it should. For a while, I took comfort in that idea – coming from a distinguished-looking minister, it seemed sort of possible. The good stuff is coming; we just haven’t gotten to it yet. Everything happens for a reason, and if we are patient and well-behaved, we will eventually see that the arc of the universe is good, tending towards love and justice and peace.

But the trouble is, I don’t believe that. I do believe that the universe is unfolding. I believe that things happen. I’m not so sure about there being pleasant underlying reasons, or a positive overall direction. More and more, I believe that what matters, what saves me over and over in the face of all that is heartbreaking and scary and evil, are the stories that I choose to explain what I perceive. I believe it matters what stories others choose to explain what they perceive. And I believe ever so fervently that it is important for us to listen with love and compassion to one another’s stories.

At the present moment, I have so many stories washing through my head from my readings for class, from the many new blogs and websites that I signed up for during my digital & spiritual literacy class, and from all the pictures and links posted on Facebook that writing about it feels like trying to fill a juice glass with a fire hose, but here’s the nugget that seems to hold it all together: the stories we tell about our lives shape creation. Pay attention to your stories.

Having given a bossy direction, I’m now setting a timer for five minutes of meditation focusing on my breathing. I hate trying to meditate, but I’m pretty sure reading about how other people meditate isn’t the same as doing it myself. By trying to stay with my breath, I will become more aware of the stories my mind is telling. I think that’s a good thing. I’ll let you know how it goes!

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 4, 2012 2:50 pm


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