STORIES WE TELL
Talk given by Rich Hayes on
Sept. 16, 2018 at Unitarian Universalist Gathering Housatonic, MA
I had heard that when guitar player Joe Walsh was asked about his life he said that back in his 20’s and 30’s life seemed chaotic with a series of things coming and going - things crashing into one another with no seeming order to anything.
Then in his 60’s as he looked back on his life he was amazed to see the patterns and the beauty- he said rather than chaos he saw a story-almost like a sophisticated symphony.
One of the things I love about being a hospice chaplain is hearing people’s stories. Every life is a story.
Actually that’s what the great myths are really about- they’re about us! Through telling stories of people who have great, awful, terrifying, wonderful, exhausting adventures, they tell us about life, it’s challenges and temptations, it’s pitfalls and traps-the dangers that can steer us off course –the ones that fill us with despair;
Or the one’s that can paralyze us with fear- The dragon on our path, which we will either face or run from, and if we choose to flee we will be brought back to face it again later on- or possibly something even more frightening.
The beginning of the hero’s journey always starts with the call to adventure. In almost all cases the hero initially resist the call-he/she doesn’t want to go, they’re comfortable with how things are(even if not perfect), they know how it all works. But then something happens(usually something bad!) and due to this, they’re off and the journey (adventure) begins, and so do the challenges.
But unknown to the hero, the ultimate challenge doesn’t come from dragons, monsters or evil forces…… It always comes from within, it’s the story he has told to himself.
Abraham Maslow wrote that the story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.
Some of the stories I’ve told myself are: I’m no good at math, I can’t sing, I’m not qualified to do this or that… (fill in the blank). As a matter of fact I didn't think I was qualified to do the work I do or to be doing something like what I'm doing here this morning(maybe some of you might agree). It's hard to get past those old tapes that run in our heads.
I’ve had a good deal of struggle and unease due to the stories that I have told myself.
How about you?
What are some of the stories you tell yourself? A good many of my stories originated in a time long ago: my childhood.
They were based on what I knew at the time, or what others had told me - some based on my own mistaken interpretations or limited perspective (like Walsh story) of what appeared to be happening at that time. Some were just plain wrong. Yet I had carried them with me into my adult life.
I had stories I told myself about other people and the way things “should be”-this is never a good recipe for happiness.
Sometimes an incident from my earlier life will just pop into my mind and I’m reminded of a time when I thought it was the end of the world and that things would never get better or that I’d never survive. But they did, and I did.
Mark Twain said, “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Worrying was a big part of my earlier story-it made me feel that I was somehow being responsible and preparing for all sorts of eventualities.
But that wasn't really true at all! I was just wasting perfectly good time that could have been better used, that’s all.
Worry gives the illusion of control-BUT if you have control there’s no need to worry, and if you don’t, then why worry?-either way it is wasted energy.
I think that when we begin to examine what stories we have been telling our self, we should also begin to ask our self what stories we’d like other people to tell about us after we’re gone.
Long after people recall what you did (job, titles, accomplishments, degrees, etc) or what you said, they will remember how you made them feel.
So here at this time of harvest, it might be a good time to examine your story and the stories you’ve held on to. See which ones you want to keep- and let go of those that no longer serve you. None of us is here to make small of our life.
There is a greater story of which we all are a vital part and each of us has a role to play.
Our journey in this life is to create and then share the highest and best story of who we are – our authentic self- with the world.
Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
And just as the individual self has a journey and a story so do societies and cultures and countries, and this also calls them to look deeper because here’s the thing, until you’re able to see something you have no chance of changing it. Sometimes we get brought to a place of deep pain in order to show us what it is-this is the dragon on the path-again the theme of the hero is facing himself which entails his shadow as well as light. That which is hidden cannot heal or be changed.
Again, I remind you, you are not here to play small with your life.
If you are thinking to yourself that greatness is measured by size and grandeur and you are just “little old you” and greatness is out of reach I am here to tell you to change that story! It is not true unless you choose to make it true.
The truly great is found in the “every day’s” of life, sometimes in the fleeting moments between a breath, washing the dishes, folding some laundry. How you do anything is how you do everything-do what you believe to be the smallest, most mundane thing with love and watch what happens to your life.
A few weeks ago I witnessed greatness. It happened in a small room in a nursing home, far from youTube, twitter or the press or the evening news. At the time I was sitting at the bedside of a patient who was dying. In the bed next to us the curtain was drawn and a hospice aide, Audrey, was caring for another patient, cleaning him up and speaking softly to him as she was doing this. Her voice was so filled with kindness and compassion and respect for the dignity of this man that it literally took my breath away.
Her gentleness and the love she showed this man literally filled that room. That is a big thing! That’s the sort of thing that changes the world. It certainly changed this man's and mine as well. And when one person is changed something happens because we are all connected.
I remind you that you should not go by what the world measures as big or small, because the world gets it wrong most times.
I'll conclude with these words from Deepak Chopra. “You have to think of your life as a kind of myth. A myth is a compelling story that is archetypal, if you know the teachings of Carl Jung. It has to have emotional content and all the themes of a great story: mystery, magic, adventure, intrigue, conflicts, contradiction, paradox.”
We've covered a lot of territory these past few minutes. We've gone from Joe Walsh to Abraham Maslow to Mark Twain to Maya Angelou and Deepak Chopra- let me add one more, the writer of "Dr. Who", Steven Moffat, who says, "We're all stories in the end".
Don’t be afraid to update or revise your story.