As You Look at Your Own Life Story You See Yourself Differently

In August 2015, the Atlantic Magazine published an article titled “Life’s Stories”. It was written by Julie Beck and the sub title of the article states: “How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are and is a fundamental part of being human.”  In that interesting article, Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah, offered a lot of insight on this subject. She stated, “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story”.

We share our life stores every day in a lot of ways, even in just our greetings with others. here are some examples of that. "Hi, where are you from?"  "Where did you grow up?" "Which school did you attend?"

I watched a salesperson standing at the entrance door of a store in a local mall recently. She would make eye contact and smile as people passed by. A lady passing smiled and said hello back and then the two of them walked into the store together. I was near the door and overheard what happened next. The sales person had asked how the potential customer was doing and got a smile and a reply back. As they went into the store the sales person asked where the lady was from. She mentioned a town in California. The sales person replied with some enthusiasm. She knew the town well and they talked about the street where it turned out they had both spent time. The sales person had plenty of personal experiences in that town to talk about and share. They both relaxed and leaned back and just talked, enjoying each other. It was clear they both had made a connection by sharing part of their life story. 

The event that connected these two people that day was something they had in common and shared. We see our own lives as a series of events but we connect the events with a narrative that becomes a story, as we look back. The resulting story that we to a large degree have constructed has a great deal to do with our self-identity.  

In the last 20+ years I have had an opportunity to tell my own life story verbally in front of a church group at least 20 times. Each time I told the story it was always a little different. It was different because I had thought more about the story and it became different with the time that had passed. Yes, I was remembering it different, but because I had rethought it and it's implications I saw it different. 

In that same time frame, I heard few hundred men present their life story and then often heard them tell their story again after a few years. The emphasis and substance of their stories changed as they re told them.

Life stories are like books. They have plots, themes, time lines and key  characters. We choose which of these are important and we connect the events in order to be able to present them in a narrative. 

Thinking about the thoughts that influences and shapes our self-identity shows some answers in why we seee it differently over time. 

People come and go in our lives but some become important and key characters in our story plot as things happen. Events shape us. How we chose to look at those events changes and this happens as we look back filtering all we have been through with our memories.

Books and authors influence us. Art, music, poetry, service,our heritage and even food can influence us even to the point of being part of the life story.

A poem by a unknown author suggests that "Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime".  Some feel that God sends the people that are needed. Others who may come bring challenges and darkness.

I believe that we have a choice in putting together the narrative of who we are, and who we have become.   We can pick which of the events we connect with, what we conclude about them, and then weave and reweave them into our story.  

Not everyone will accept those conclusions. Some believe in free will and do accept that our choices effect our memories. Others are deterministic and believe that people are wired to be what they are.  They say that we didn't choose our parents, or the time or place where we were born, or our genes, and that we are just are programmed by cause and effect causing our circumstances. to be what are.

Tell your story to your family and listen to how you see things this year and then again in a year.

Enter Through the Forest

John Muir said “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

This picture below is one I took a few years ago. The trail's name is the "Pipeline" and it offers clarity to Muir's statement. It runs from the top of Grandeur Peak, where you can look West and see the Salt Lake Valley below, and then on the East, to near the top of the Millcreek canyon where, if you know where to look, you can see Park City. 

My own preferred way to enter this trail is at Rattlesnake Gulch. I drive up the canyon, not too far past the entrance booth, to a parking area where the Rattlesnake Gulch trail begins. It goes up the side of the mountain and gains about 600 feet in elevation and is about 0.8 miles up to when you can get on the Pipeline Trail. You can then head east off to the left to Grandeur or west off to the right to Church Fork.

For many years I tried to run that trail as often as I could. The trail is hardly a wilderness. It is however, a first step out of our day to day world, into a place where the natural order of nature does surround you. T

This trail was less than 4 miles from where I lived, and I was always in awe of how different I felt when I left the day to day world to this special place. 

I often saw and heard snakes, even jumping over them stretched across the trail. I saw bobcats, deer and heard larger animals back in the brush.

I have been reading a book about wolves and their lives after being reintroduced into Yellowstone Park. It shows that the balance between the Elk and the Wolves is real, and changes in the balance has consequences.

The wilderness and it's balance point a way into understanding much more. Even more about the universe itself as Muir said. 

I loved my years running on the Pipeline Trail.  I have run it both winter and summer. I look forward to next and to at least walk it again. 

(A Review of American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee will be posted to the review section of this site soon)

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A Thanksgiving Story

Each Thanksgiving I get excited. Sometimes I think back to 1957 to a very special Thanksgiving day and dinner. My sister was  born that year on Tuesday the 26th of November, two days before the holiday.  My mother and new sister were, of course, still in the hospital and my father, brother, and myself had to figure out what to do for a meal on Thanksgiving Day, and I was worried.

This story of that day is one that I have told, over and over again, for the last 60+ years. Looking back at the event this year seems different, and it occurs to me that I have been in a rut. For too long the story has just been focused our special a Thanksgiving day meal that year. I have been missing the bigger picture. I should have seen how repetitious my story had become.  My father had told many stories about his family over the years and they were repetitious.

Oral histories have been a common way families have past on their life stories. My father was one that past not only his own history, but much of his extended families stories this way. He really never could seem to remember that he had told us the stories before. Later in his life I just reached a point where I felt it was important that I listen to him and so I didn't say anything and just listened.

Looking back now I realize that his repetition served to imprint those stories into my memory. So why I have retold the Thanksgiving story of 1957 so many times to my sister is something I really can't explain? 

It was Thanksgiving that year and I learned, after some concern on my part, that a neighbor had invited us guys over for dinner. Even then I wondered why our Aunts, and Uncles or even Grandparents didn't invite us?  Maybe they did, and maybe my dad just thought it would be easier to just go almost next door, rather than across town. I remember worrying about the dinner. At 11 years old I thought having a sister was fine but I have always remembered how much I had looked forward to turkey day.

When the time for the big meal came I remember that we were at the neighbors all siting around the living room table. We waited at the table for what seemed like a long time.  The table didn't seem like the Thanksgiving day dinners I was used to. I figured that when the turkey arrived it would make it all good.  Our neighbor, Mrs Zelner, announced that it was ready and coming. She carried the main course in on a large silver tray with a silver dome cover. I had never seen a large silver serving tray with a cover like this and it seemed exciting She had left the center of the table open with a place to put the special tray, and she carefully set it down.

She stood up and I wondered if she would carve the turkey first but she just reached for the dome lid. It seemed like she was building up to the big moment and then she lifted the dome. The tray was stacked high and full of hamburgers.

Yes, I was disappointed, and a little shell shocked. The rest of the dinner seems like sort of a blur as I try to recall it. I know I was shocked. Obviously I was so enough to repeat this story over and over, mostly to my sister Trudy over a lot of years. I guess I figured I was passing on my own oral tradition memories to her. I knew I had told her the story before, so I wasn't just retelling it because I couldn't remember. Maybe I have always been trying to get over it. 

Since then, every Thanksgiving dinner has been spent with family.  In the case of my wife's parents those dinners were also spent with a day of football. 

Last year we found ourselves alone in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each of our now grown children and their spouses had other plans. A member of our church who knew we would be alone invited us over for dinner. What seemed to hit me at that time was how nice it was to have someone do that.  Thinking of others is important and perhaps you notice it more when your on the receiving end.

I realized that so many years ago I had much to be thankful for. A new sister of course, and overlooked at the time was neighbors who wanted to help. 

Thanksgiving 

A story about being Naive

Life stories are full of surprises and similarities. I remember a man who stood up in a group we were in and told us about his life. When he got to his time in WWII he mentioned being on a ship that was hit by a Japanese bomber in Pearl Harbor. The ship sank and turned over and he and hundreds of men, some alive and some dead, were trapped upside down in the ship, mostly under water, for over a week. We were all surprised by his story, but as often was the case when a man had been in WWII it often took a lot of the allocated time as he recalled his life.

Another time a friend stood in a similar group setting and told about his life and he mentioned that when he was a senior in high school both of his parents committed suicide. When he brought that up we were shocked. It really had an impact on us. I don't think any of us will forget his story and how we felt when he told it. He didn't spend much time on this part of his story.

My own life experiences include the times in the late 1960's when the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights protests were something that dominated the news every day. I lived in Southeastern Idaho and after finishing high school I went to Idaho State University.  I had grown up right there in the small town of Pocatello.

There were not many Blacks in the town, or even at the University, when I went. I didn't really experience seeing a lot of discrimination. The town had one part where most of the Blacks lived, but I hadn't given a lot of thought to that. The high school had it's first Black Student Body President a couple of years before I graduated and he was very popular.

Many from our high school left for Vietnam after graduation. The protests for both the war and civil rights were what you read about in the newspaper and heard about on TV. 

At the University a daily routine for me for the first couple of years was sitting in the Student Union between classes. This brought some experiences which I have always remembered. Young men who I had gone to high school with sometimes stopped by and sat with us as they returned from Vietnam. They would talk about drugs and sometimes about the fighting.  Several were reenlisting or going back and just checking the Student Union's social situation out.

The war had changed them. They seemed lost and cold and it was hard to keep a conversation going with them. They came and visited but didn't stay long. I felt that they were uncomfortable sitting with us.

Classmates were the regulars in these Student Union sessions. The classes were hard and it really helped to become part of the out of class study groups.  New friendships were found and one that I found was a young man who was in one of my classes. He was an African who had come from his homeland to an American University. I had never had a Black friend. I didn't feel that I had any prejudges. 

My friend and I spent a few months studying together and talking.  He seemed so very interesting and I was grateful to be able to hear his story each day. One day in the middle of a conversation he changed the subject and looked me in the face and told me that he just did not want to be friends with me anymore? I was really surprised and had never experienced something like that before.  I asked him why, and what had changed. He told me that in America the Blacks were hated by the Whites. When he said that I was surprised and challenged it.  His response was to tell me to just watch the TV news.  He then told me that the only reason I had been a friend to him was because I looked at him as an African and not as a Negro? He said that had offended him a great deal. What he said I also found offensive to me. He got up and walked away and we never visited after that. 

It has been 50 years since this happened.  There is so much about the civil rights movement that impressed me. I look back and see myself so isolated from those events while they were happening.

Each time you retell and think again about you life story you see it a little different. That difference changes you. You see the connections in different ways and try to remake yourself over as you learn from what happened.

This particular event left me feeling stunned and betrayed. It seems important to me as I look back at my life, but I still look for reasons for why it is important.

I did make a contact a few years ago with the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello.  I offered them a story written up to cover this time period at the local University. The story included the campus reaction to the war, the prior popularity of the High School President, and the event I reviewed here. They didn't have an interest in it and I don't think anyone that I had contact with could really relate to that time period?

So even though I am still learning I still can ask myself what this story taught me. Obviously this friend saw me very differently that I saw myself. I learned that I indeed was naive. I also learned that just being naive doesn't mean you don't care.

 

 

 

Reflections on Life

I just finished writing a review of Pat Conroy's book "A Lowcountry Heart, Reflections on a Writing Life". The book is a collection of stories that were intended as final words and heartfelt remembrances of his life.

I wanted to learn more about who Pat Conroy really was. It was very interesting to find a favorite quote of his that said "The most powerful words in the English language are Tell me a story".

I do love to tell stories and I love to hear them.  I like to know about the author of the books I read as much, or even more, than the books. 

There is no one whose story I am as familiar with as my own. The same is true for you. This seems so obvious, but then what surprises me a little is how I see that story differently almost every time I tell it.

Connections that seemed so important at the time that I told my own story seemed less important over time. Coincidences have become clearer over time. As the story changes as I retell it, I find that it changes me. I become different because of how I see the story. In someways it seems like we continually create who we are, but use the same events to shape our own conclusions. 

I have witnessed how other people seem to change their own conclusions about themselves using the same facts from participating in an event at my local church.

Over a period of about 35 years a men's group I participated in met once a month and one person would take about 45 minutes and tell the group their life story. 

The initial purpose in doing this was to help us get to know each other. We believed that men didn't bond all that easy and they normally were a little shy in a setting like this.  We felt it was important to gain an appreciation, and even love, for each other.

People moved in and moved away over this time. Somehow we were able to keep this going. It did after a few years lead to recycling some of us. So we would hear the life stories again. I do have some memory issues but I usually can remember the details of these type of stories clearly. What was interesting is that sometimes the events of a story heard before clearly was viewed differently by the presenter when re told. I had my own occasions of retelling my life experiences that I felt important and it was clear to me that the same events looked different in retelling. There were times when I wondered if a person who seemed to see the same event differently when retold, was doing so because having told the story he then found different connections to the events. I sometimes wondered if the changes and emphasis was on purpose just reshaping an image?

People do come and go in our lives and it takes some time to see reasons. When a new person comes we take it for granted as coincidence. When we look back and see the full impact of the people we see destiny in action and feel changed by the events.

An article in the Atlantic Magazine back in 2015 had some interesting observations about life stories that listening to so many over the last 35 years seemed to clearly confirm. 

The author, Julie Beck, subtitle of the story said “How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are, and is a fundamental part of being human.” She said that  “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story”. Of course we do. A big part of even a initial greeting often is telling each other where your from.

Reinventing our-self may be, in part, just telling our own story often and listening closely.