Can you give the gift of hope? My pastor would probably say no. He recently gave a sermon in which he argued that hope doesn’t come as a gift, neatly wrapped up. It requires discipline and endurance.
Finding your tribe, the group of people that supports you, or supports a cause you’re invested in, can make all the difference. Knowing you can let your hair down and be yourself is comforting and exhilarating. When it happens, it’s worth writing about.
I experienced this during the last two weeks. A group of family historians came together, interested in maintaining the blogging resources at Geneabloggers.com as curator Thomas MacEntee moved on to other endeavors.
In the hyper-awareness that comes with loss, quite a few bittersweet moments have embossed themselves on my heart and memory. Snapshots of love, grief, and faith, gathered over the last two weeks.
I thought the dearly departed would have enjoyed some of them, were he watching. Perhaps he was. My insights aren’t unique, I’m sure. Such bittersweet moments happen in families all the time. But I found comfort in writing them down. Considering them together, I realize that they tell a story that is as much about the departed as those he left behind.
I hope that by my sharing them, you’ll record a few of your own.
Though poignant, stories of forgiveness can be difficult to write. They call for us to reveal the dark times of our relationships with our family, friends, or even faith. Telling heartfelt stories of forgiveness push us even further than the proverbial long honest look in the mirror. They require us to admit to the world what the reflection revealed.
Stories of Forgiveness
Perhaps because of forgiveness’ elusiveness or our own limited ability to harness its power, stories of forgiveness make for compelling reading. If you doubt their popularity, just do a Google search. Readers’ Digest, Real Simple, and The Huffington Post all offer compilations of stories of forgiveness, as does The Forgiveness Project.
Do beauty and family stories go together? Should they? When we leave a photographic record for prosperity, we’re all smiles. Why not do the same for our legacy of family stories?
Most of us want to present ourselves in a positive light. Maybe not quite perfect, but normal. We want to cover the blemishes. We may not be the Cleaver family, but we keep mute about the family disfigurements, the bad times.
If you’re like me, chronic and invisible illnesses come towards the bottom of the list of things you’d like to write about yourself. It’s not just immersing yourself in the negativity. Although the term “invisible illness” applies “to any medical condition that is not outwardly visible to others,” according to Social Work Today, some illnesses (heart disease, cancer) seem to generate support from loved ones, while others leave sufferers socially isolated.
Many with invisible illnesses frequently encounter people who, although they’ve never had a license to practice medicine feel beholden to second guess other people’s health status or dispense dismissive medical advice.
Last week, however, a friend showed me how to look for silver linings.
The news is often disturbing, but in the last couple of weeks the horrors that some people will inflict on others makes me want to run and hide. Only I don’t know where I’d go.
The fallibility of memory can make truth and accuracy hard to come by. Competing versions of the same stories—the same memories—dance and whorl around family tables every get together. One person remembers it was a Sunday in July. A sibling insists it was in October and a Sunday.
How do you decide which version is true? What details are accurate? Perhaps a better question is how do you decide if the details of the story are worth fighting about.
Often the answer lies in understanding the difference between truth and accuracy as well as your own role as storyteller.
Truth versus Accuracy
Grief often rears its dark, draining head, not just when someone dies. The onset of many life crises is the loss of something. A relationship, a value, a sense of purpose. We’ve all experienced a loss of a pet or cherished object (See Writing Your Lost and Found Story.) But what else have you lost during your lifetime?
A time for change often hits us from behind. The change is either inevitable or beyond our control. I’ll confront such a time on Mother’s Day when I watch my eldest son walk across the stage at his college commencement ceremony. A lot of things will be commencing, including his job search and our wrapping our heads around the fact that he won’t be coming home to roost any longer.
Adjusting to change
Those times in which we adjust to a new normal are important to write about. Tell the story of what happened and whether or not you were prepared for the change. Did you embrace your new role or did you grieve for the past?
Was it (or is it) a slow change that you saw coming from years away? Aging, ravages of chronic disease, and kids growing up too fast all come to mine. How did you try to prepare yourself? Did you put your head in the sand until you had no choice but face reality or did you obsessively research, read books, and consult friends?
Sometimes drastic life changes sneak up on us. We get a phone call and hear of the change—a fait accompli. (I hope if this happened to you it was for winning a lottery.)
In Handbook of Stressful Transitions Across the Lifespan, T.W. Miller writes, “Life transitions can provide a productive time to introspectively understand ourselves.” These transitions also bring an opportunity to explain ourselves to others.
Was life suddenly divided into a before and after as surely as if that date was tattooed upon your forehead? How did you deal with the shock? Looking back now, how do you feel about the before? What have you learned about moving forward?
Time for a change
Sometimes we come to a realization that it’s time to make a change. We’ve stagnated. Screwed up. We’re looking for a new beginning or have gathered up the gumption to pursue a dream. Such changes don’t always come easily. Pulling ourselves off of our current path and onto a new one can be excruciating. For instance, checking into rehab to begin a life of recovery often takes hitting rock bottom first. Other times, accepting change can mean voluntarily kissing a lot of things that you love goodbye, such as moving to a new place or starting a new career. Going back to being the new kid on the block.
A time for change doesn’t have to be huge to make a significant story. I love remembering how my Dad decided to stop smoking right after he met his grandson for the first time. Longevity suddenly mattered.
There are changes we all make for the better—learning to be more accepting of people, more forgiving. We mellow with age. That mellowing makes a great story.
Your Turn: A time for Change
When have you experienced a time for change in your life? Have you written about it?