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What is a story and What is my story?

There are probably many ways to define a story and many fancy words to make the definition virtually unintelligible for the rest of us. I was thinking today that on a basic level most, if not all, stories contain a beginning, middle and end. Otherwise, it may simply be an observation. A story indicates motion or change that allows us to speak of a beginning, a middle and an end.

Why a middle? Why not a beginning and an end. Well, I was thinking the “middle” is the transition from beginning to end. No matter how long or short, it somehow connect the start from the finish. Now the telling of story can alter the order of beginning, middle and end in variations such as end, beginning and middle (and back to end again). The variations can be wide-ranging:

beginning, middle, beginning, middle, beginning, middle and end (this is the beginning constantly being redefined which alter the middle and leads to a different end).

middle, end, beginning (I can’t remember but I think memento worked like this).

The various ways we tell a story are not limited just to the structure. We also tell it from a perspective or a point of view. And I don’t just mean through different characters or an omniscient narrator. We might tell it from the point of view of a victim. The same story will look very different it told from the pov of a tireless hero.

Each story contains thousands of other stories. A good example is the Simarillion, where Tolkien tells some of the many stories before the Lord of the Rings. Our personal story works the same way. A story from my life can be as short and simply as the visit to a drive through window at a fast food restuarant. While I may not retell the story often, one day something happens that makes it memorable: bad service or maybe a surprise. That night I tell the “fast food restaurant” to my wife. If the reaction is strong and the story lodges in my memory it may be repeated. If it is really interested, it may be repeated by people beyond my circle of friends.

So stories can take on a life of their own.

The fast food story is one of a many possible stories within a given day. Additionally, there are epochal tracks or repeated scenes/event/stories that combine to former a larger story over time. These stories may be stories may have a defining center that connects them: husband and wife, family, identity, vocation, community, forgiveness, and so on. Different little stories within my life and connect and reconnect with different centers to tell the same story.

I may tell the story of vocation, explaining how I ended up as a bi-vocational minister. Some of the stories within that story when seen from a different angle might combine with other stories to tell the story of my identity. Then again the some of the stories might reform around another center and combine with other stories to tell the story of my 20-year love affair with my wife.

By thinking of my stories in this light, I might begin to see that the stories I tell are not actual events but events filtered through memory combined with imagination/creativity. So a story is creative work that I engage in. I don’t tell the meta story that overarches my life. God tells this story. Sometimes, I see glimpses of his story being told through me, but most often I am clueless as to the richness and fullness and connectedness of that story which connects all stories.

With in mind, I must realize that the story I am telling, I am creating. I am using characters, plots, settings, pace, mood, symbols and more to tell the stories. I have certain lines that I uses again and again, much like the move lines, “I’ll be baaaaaacck” or “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Rarely do we step back from our preoccupation with telling or thinking our own story to analyze. But sometimes it may be helpful.

I might try focusing on other characters. I might consider using a different pov, or a different tone. I might look for other symbols or lines or settings that are already inherent within my stories but I’ve overlooked. I might find a different center, a different connecting points for my little stories. By doing so, I might discover that I could tell my story as a story of sacrifice and suffering at the hands of other in a new way and recast it as a story of power, choice and heroic overcoming of struggles against all odds.

Enough for now. Hopefully, I’ll write more on how I connect my stories with other stories outside myself (literature, arts, history and even the Bible).

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